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

The Heat of the Sun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Revelation From On High

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Year: Day to Day Men: 31st of October, Solar Year 2018

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zebra Stripes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Artist’s Wooden Stool

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thumb in Briefs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Roses and the Cross

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Cable Knit Sweater

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Year: Day to Day Men: 7th of September, Solar Year 2018

Sign of a Man

September 7, 1937 was the birthdate of American actor John Phillip Law.

John Phillip Law moved to New York after graduating from the University of Hawaii and studied with Elia Kazan’s Lincoln Center Repertory Theater. While there he had a small role in the 1962 comedy “Come on Strong”. Looking for another way to enter the movie business, Law moved to Italy, where he acted in several films. Director Norman Jewison, seeing one of these films, cast Law in the role of a young Soviet sailor in the 1966 comedy film “The Russians  Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming”.

Law next costarred with Michael Caine and Jane Fonda in the 1967 American drama “Hurry Sundown” produced and directed by Otto Preminger. Law then returned to Europe playing the lead in two films: “Spaghetti Western, Death Rides a Horse” and “Danger: Diebolik”, a crime action film based on the Italian comic book series “Diabolik”. Law’s best known role was his 1968 appearance in Roger Vadim’s comic book-based science fiction movie “Barbarella” , cast in the now famous  role of Pygar, the blind angel who had lost the will to fly.

John Phillip Law costarred with Rod Steiger in the 1968 drama film “The Sergeant” directed by John Flynn. Law played Private First Class Swanson, the object of Steiger’s character’s, Sargeant Callan, secret sexual attraction. This film differs from the original book, becoming the Sargeant’s self-discovery instead of Private Swanson as was written. “The Sargeant” ends in defeat and suicide that once were so obligatory in popular, homosexual literature and films like “The Children’s Hour” and “The City and the Pillar”.

In 1971, Law co-starred in Roger Corman’s film “Richthofen and Brown, playing Manfred von Richthofen opposite actor Don Stoud’s Roy Brown. He was trained by Canadian pilot Lynn Garrison in the basics of flying to land and take off, making some of the movie footage more realistic. From the 1970s until the fall of 2003, the mult-lingual Law traveled and worked abroad appearing in films and television series.

John Phillip Law was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in December of 2007. He died five months later at his home in Los Angeles. Law’s body was cremated and his ashes were scattered at sea.

Some of John Phillip Law’s movies have become cult classics, including “The Love Machine”, “The Golden Voyage of Sinbad” and the World War ii drama “Attack Force Z”. Mystery Science Theater included in its series two of Law’s films: “Space Mutiny” and “Danger” Diabolik”.

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

Crates of Lathe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Smokin’ Guns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stretching to the Right

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Searching for Socks

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

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

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

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

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

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

A World of Blue Tiles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Paw Print

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Year: Day to Day Men: 9th of April, Solar Year 2018

A Giant Among Men

On April 9, 1928, the play “Diamond Lil”, written by and starring Mae West, opened in New York City.

Mae West began writing began writing her risqué plays using the pen name Jane Mast. Her first starring role on Broadway was in a 1926 play she entitled “Sex”, which she wrote, produced, and directed. Although conservative critics panned the show, ticket sales were strong. The production did not go over well with city officials, who had received complaints from some religious groups, and the theater was raided. Mae West was arrested along with the rest of the cast. She was taken to the Jefferson Market Court House, where she was prosecuted on morals charges, and on April 19, 1927, was sentenced to 10 days for “corrupting the morals of youth”.

Though Mae West could have paid a fine and been left off, she chose the jail sentence for the publicity it would garner. While incarcerated on Welfare Island, she dined with the warden and his wife. She told reporters that she had worn her silk panties while serving time, in lieu of the ‘burlap’ the other girls had to wear. West got good milage from this jail stint. She served eight days with two days off for “good behavior”. Media attention surrounding the incident enhanced her career, by crowning her the darling “bad girl” who “had climbed the ladder of success wrong by wrong”

Her next play, “The Drag”, dealt with homosexuality, and was what West called one of her “comedy-dramas of life”. After a series of try-outs in Connecticut and New Jersey, West announced she would open the play in New York. However, “The Drag” never opened on Broadway due to efforts by the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice to ban any attempt by West to stage it. West explained, “the city fathers begged me not to bring the show to New York because they were not equipped to handle the commotion it would cause.” West was an early supporter of the women’s liberation movement; since the 1920’s she was also an early supporter of gay rights.

Mae West continued to write plays, which included “The Wicked Age”, “Pleasure Man”, and “The Constant Sinner”. Her productions aroused controversy, which ensured that she stayed in the news, which also often resulted in packed houses at her performances. Her 1928 play, “Diamond Lil”, was about a racy, easygoing, and ultimately very smart lady of the 1890s. It opened on April 9th,  became a Broadway hit, and cemented West’s image in the public’s eye. This show had an enduring popularity and West successfully revived it many times throughout the course of her career.

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

Breath of Fresh Air

February 4, 1895 was the birth date of William Nigel Ernie Bruce, a British character actor on stage and screen.

Nigel Bruce made his first appearance on stage on May 12, 1920 at the Comedy Theater, a theater in the West End of London, as a footman in the play “Why Marry?”. In October of that year, he went to Canada as stage manager to Henry Esmond and Eva Moore, also playing “Montague Jordan” in “Eliza Comes to Stay”. Upon returning to England, he toured acting the same part. He appeared constantly onstage thereafter, and eight years later started also working in silent films.

Nigel Bruce typically played buffoonish, fuzzy-minded gentlemen. During his film career, he worked on seventy-eight films, including “Treasure Island”, “The Charge of the Light Brigade”, ”Rebecca”, and “Suspicion”. He took a role out of character when he played a detestable figure in “The Rains Came”.

Bruce’s signature role was that of Doctor Watson in the 1939-1946 Universal Studios’ Sherlock Holmes film series with close friend Basil Rathbone as Holmes. Bruce starred as Watson in all 14 films of the series and over 200 radio programs of “The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes”. Though for most viewers Nigel Bruce formed their vision of Dr. Watson, Holmes purists have long objected that the Watson of the books was intelligent and capable (although not an outstanding detective), and that Bruce’s portrayal made Watson far dimmer and more bumbling than his literary original.

Basil Rathbone, however, spoke highly of Bruce’s portrayal, saying that Watson was one of the screen’s most lovable characters. The historian David Parkinson wrote that Bruce’s “avuncular presence provided the perfect counterbalance to Rathbone’s briskly omniscient sleuth”. Cinema historian Alan Barnes notes that, despite the criticisms against him, Bruce rehabilitated Watson, who had been a marginal figure in the cinematic Holmes canon to that point: “after Bruce, it would be a near-unthinkable heresy to show Holmes without him”.

“Cheer up old fellow, cheer up. As Dr Samuel Johnson once said, “There’s no problem the mind of man can set, that the mind of man can not solve.”              – Nigel Bruce as Watson in “Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Code”, 1945