When I heard him speak at UC Berkely back in the day, I was mesmerized. So was everyone else. We were in a big auditorium, and you could have heard a pin drop. He was that powerful. And judging from this recent interview with Oprah, he still is. The man has written 40 books and won the Nobel Peace Prize. But he has said that if he had been allowed to write only one book during his astonishing life, it would be Night. It sold poorly at first. As he says in the introduction to the new edition, some people complained that it was too morbid, and why reprise the suffering of the Jewish people during the holocaust anyway? Maybe his critics had a point. But there was another point they might have missed: it's not just the content but the way Wiesel frames the content that makes Night a great book. It's what he makes of his experience that brings a shiver to your spine. In this interview with Oprah, you can see how fortunate we are that he came to the planet on this day.
She's the award-winning author of Like Water for Chocolate, which has sold over four and a half million copies around the world in 35 languages, The Law of Love, and most recently, Between Two Fires. She is alive and well and living in Mexico City. Here's a clip from the movie version of that amazing first novel.
The trouble with fame, if you get it, is that it sometimes obscures the thing that made you famous. Truman Capote was a physically small man with an enormous personality, famous enough to spawn a play and at least two movies about his life. His appearances on late-night talk shows are legend. But if you think the icon you can still see in Internet TV clips is the real Truman Capote, you are mistaken. The real Tru is in Other Voices, Other Rooms; Breakfast at Tiffany's; and of course, In Cold Blood. The following two clips show him at his best, before drugs and alcohol and disappointment turned him into a caricature. The first is the Firing Line interview conducted by William Buckley about the death penalty. The second is from an appearance on the Dick Cavett Show. Grouch Marx is also in this clip, and you will see that he interrupts Capote at times when we most want him to keep speaking. The exchanges show what late-night TV used to be, or more particularly, what Dick Cavett's show used to be. This is a conversation, and at times it gets testy, if not downright nasty. Nevertheless, it's worth watching, not only for what Capote has to say about writing, but for Cavett's amazing ability to handle the tension between Marx and Capote - and as an example of what has been lost. Happy Birthday, Truman Capote.
To Become a Knight, Act Like a Knight
Miguel de Cervantes - Don Quixote Author - Born This Day
He arrived on the planet in Spain in 1547. Was captured by Algerians and enslaved for five years. Spent time in jail (twice) for "discrepancies" in his accounts while working as a tax collector. Filed for bankruptcy. Put words on paper. Some of them turned into the masterpiece, Don Quixote.
It's been over 400 years since that novel was published. And the hits just keep on coming. It's the basis of poetry, paintings, plays, movies, and a tone poem by Richard Strauss for cello, viola, and large orchestra. Here's Yo Yo Ma with the finale to that composer's Don Quixote, Opus 35, "Fantastic Variations on a Theme of Knightly Character."
In 1965, a musical version of Dale Wasserman's 1959 teleplay based on Quixote became a worldwide sensation known as Man of La Mancha. Here's a clip from the 1972 movie version of the play. Thank you Cervantes, and Happy Birthday!
The Girl with the Pearl Earring
It's not her birthday or Vermeer's, but must mention that this is the last day to see her if you're anywhere near Atlanta's High Museum of Art. Several Rembrandts are part of the exhibit, made possible because of construction underway at the paintings' permanent home at the Mauritshius, The Hague. Otherwise, it's doubtful these paintings would have ever left the Netherlands. It's a heart-stopping, mouth-watering exhibit. My only regret is that I didn't visit more often. May have to move to The Hague to be near her after this. When you see the painting, you realize how things work nowadays, whether you travel this route or not. It's backwards, but it's the way things work. First, people see the movie with Colin Firth and Scarlett Johannson; hungry for what the film left out, they read the novel by Tracy Chevalier; then they go to Ted Talks on the Internet and listen to the novelist discuss how the painting inspired her to imagine the story. Then, finally, if you're lucky, you get to see the real thing - the Dutch Mona Lisa, as she's called. It's like following ripples in a pond, hoping they'll lead you to the center, the place where the dropped stone caused them. It's a journey back to source. So who cares how you get there - as long as you do. Here's Ms. Chevalier's Ted Talk, followed by Firth and Johannson in the "color of clouds" scene from the film.
TAGS: Truth & Beauty, Writers & Writing, Muses & Music, Historical Figures & Events
There Goes My Baby & Stand by Me
These songs still give me goosebumps after all these years. Ben E. King co-wrote and performed both of them. The first marked his debut as lead singer for "The Drifters" in 1959. The second--well, everybody knows about the second one, recorded a year later when Ben was out on his own as a solo artist. "Stand by Me," according to the Recording Association of America, is one of the songs of the 20th Century. In March of 2012, "Stand by Me" received the Towering Song Award from the Songwriters Hall of Fame. When you listen to these two recordings, it's easy to see why people still love them and why they're a great way to celebrate the birthday of a gentleman.
There Goes My Baby
(Thanks to Miss Ellie for posting these first on YouTube)
Stand By Me
(Thanks to Adriano Cruzado)
The Playing for Change Version
Marcello Mastroianni - Renown Italian Actor - 144 Films
If he had never acted again after 8 1/2, La Dolce Vita, and La Notte, those three films would have been enough to make a legacy. But you can't keep a good man down. The Nazis couldn't do it when they sent him to a prison camp during World War II. He escaped to Venice of all places. And if you think of film as a kind of escape, Marcello Mastroianni was the eternal refugee. Which is what happens in art anyway, I suppose. Whatever your medium, you keep escaping your own skin. It's so much fun to live in another's if only for a while. Here's a look at some of the many other lives this great actor lived for us. (Thanks to marcgsrgb for posting these first on YouTube)
TAGS: Famous Birthdays
Louis Auchincloss - Author of 60 Books - Born This Day - Also Arthur Penn - Director of Little Big Man, Bonnie and Clyde, and The Miracle Worker
"Once somebody’s aware of a plot, it’s like a bone sticking out. If it breaks through the skin, it’s very ugly."
"If you wrote a novel about Abraham Lincoln and made him a dentist, you could have him recite the Gettysburg Address and nobody would pick it up."
These quotes come from George Plimpton's interview with Louis Auchincloss in The Paris Review, "The Art of Fiction, No. 138," back in 1994. Here's the rest of it.
Here's a clip from Arthur Penn's film, Bonnie and Clyde. There's a new version with Holliday Grainger and Emilie Hirsch due in December of this year. But you gotta love this scene from Penn's movie, released in 1967, which makes robbing banks look like a fun thing to do and reflected glory seem almost as good as the real thing.
In the room the women come and go,
Talking of Michelangelo
You don't really find out why a poet is great when you study him in the classroom. You find reasons. You make notes about what others have said. You take your tests, you pass them, you get your degrees. But you do not understand why a poet like T. S. Eliot is great until you need his poems. Until life has taken you to a place where you can see the waste(land) laid before you and really need the tracks left behind by someone who has passed this way before. Thank you, Mr. Eliot, for Four Quartets, The Waste Land, and The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. Thank you for taking on Hamlet and coming up with the term, "objective correlative." And for understanding that your own prim nasal-sounding voice might not be the best for reading the great poetry that wrote itself through you. That's why I'm celebrating your birth today (9/26/1888) and your work by having Anthony Hopkins and Fiona Shaw recite two of your best ones for you.
Here's Fiona Shaw first, reciting The Waste Land from memory. It's as if I never heard this poem before - nor understood it either. (If you have an iPad, you can download Part 2 of this.)
Now, here is Anthony Hopkins reciting Prufrock. Sublime.
George Gershwin -
Still Amazing after All These Years
The philosopher Schopenhauer once said, "All the arts aspire to the condition of music." And you feel all of them in Gershwin's music - painting, poetry, dance, sculpture and architecture too. To mark the day when George arrived on the planet (9/26/1898), here is the opening to Woody Allen's, Manhattan, a montage that demands to be shown with Rhapsody in Blue as the soundtrack.
And Then There's Serena Williams
In a Class of Her Own.
Here's the birthday girl with David Letterman shortly before winning her fifth U.S. Open championship.
On F. Scott Fitzgerald's Birthday, the Amazing Last Lines of The Great Gatsby Read by Morgan Freeman (not)
None of the movie versions would do for what I want to share here. It's about the language. Not the pictures on the screen but the words on the page and what they evoke in the silent company of the soul. No one channeled the Muse like Fitzgerald. And though the Morgan Freeman in this reading is an impersonator, there is nothing fake about this beautiful ending to one of the great novels of American literature.
Today is also the birthday of Pedro Almodovar, who won an Oscar for the film we English-speaking Americans refer to as "All About My Mother." Here are some scenes that explain why he won.
And last but not least in today's trio of birthdays, the amazing Jim Henson, creator of The Muppets, born this day in 1936. Here they are performing Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody."
TAGS: Writers & Writing, Famous Birthdays
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