Painter Vincent Van Gogh (d. July 29, 1890). Skull of a Skeleton with Burning Cigarette, 1885–86. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam. His story has always struck me as particularly tragic. He attempted to dedicate his life to religion, becoming a Protestant pastor in Belgium, giving away all of his possessions to his community. His colleagues found his eccentricities alarming and overly zealous and told him he was ill-suited to their brotherhood. Apparently, it was after this terrible disillusionment that he turned to art at the suggestion of his younger brother Theo. Conceptual artist, or “artist of words,” Jenny Holzer (b. July 29, 1950). Untitled by Jenny Holzer. Filmmaker and photographer Chris Marker (b. July 29, 1921). The site dedicated to his work, Notes from the Era of Imperfect Memory, is worth checking out.
The first horror movie to use three-strip Technicolor, Dr. Cyclops began shooting June 12, 1930 with King Kong director Ernest Schoedsack. Set in the Peruvian jungle, the plot of the movie appears to be a sort of horror-version precursor to Honey I Shrunk the Kids. Dr. Thorkel, aka Dr. Cyclops, is shrinking things in a radiation chamber. Also, he owns a cat named Satanus. You can rent it on Amazon for 99 cents. I can think of worse ways to spend 76 minutes. If you find out why they are all dressed in togas, let me know.
Also born on June 12: historian Charles Kingsley in 1819; painter Egon Schiele in 1890; and photojournalist Ascher Feiling, better known as Weegee, in 1899. His name, phonetic of Ouija, was either his own rebranding or a nickname given to him by someone early in his career. While working as a freelance street photographer, it’s said, as if by premonition, he frequently arrived at emergencies and crime scenes only moments after authorities.
Also born on June 12: Astronomer David Gill in 1843; ballerina Marina Semyonova in 1908; and Anne Frank in 1929.
Suspended Strait Jacket Escape
On June 12, 1923, Harry Houdini performed an escape act in New York City, hanging upside down in a straitjacket, 40 feet from the ground. Also, over at Yankee Stadium, the New York Yankees lost to the Cleveland Indians 8 to 4.
On June 12. 1967. the Supreme Court, ruling on the case Loving v. Virginia, declared unconstitutional any state law prohibiting interracial marriage.
I looked through some words of wisdom from the Desert Fathers to see if I could find anything inspiring for today. I didn’t find anything that particularly spoke to my Tuesday afternoon sensibilities, but I did stop to ponder this one: “A man who keeps death before his eyes will at all times overcome his cowardliness.” I can say confidently, as someone who considers risks and calculates the probability of certain death 100% of my days, these words are categorically untrue. Unless I am doing it wrong?
Thanks to E. L. Wordworderer for editing today’s post. I finished yesterday’s post late and didn’t send for proofreading. Regrettably, as my husband pointed out this morning, I twice wrote Godfellas instead of Goodfellas. Two times. I wonder what a mafia man from heaven looks like. It has the potential for a comic book. He’s going to need some buddies. And an alter ego. And a cat named Satanus. Incidentally, Henry Hill died on today’s date in 2012, from heart disease. He had turned 69 the day before.
The Old Farmers Almanac says today is the best day to end a project, so I guess it’s time to throw in the towel. Unless it’s a weaving project. St. Onophrius wants you to see that one through. Also, go check your backyard – I think your kids are in the weeds.
Inventor Edwin Armstrong gave the first public demonstration of FM radio on June 11, 1935, in Alpine, New Jersey.
Photographer Julia Margaret Cameron was born on June 11, 1815. French physicist Charles Fabry was born June 11, 1867. He and Henri Buisson discovered the ozone later in 1913. You know that weakened protective shield made up by the liberal elite to sell newspapers? That one.
Poet Renee Vivien was born on June 11, 1877. Musician Carmine Coppola was born in 1910. You have probably heard his work in many of his son’s movies, including The Godfather trilogy. Marine biologist Jacques Cousteau shares the exact same birthday. Ballerina Beryl Grey was born on June 11, 1927.
Painter William Baziotes was born June 11, 1912. Football coach Vince Lombardi was born on June 11, 1913. Are you like me and only know his name because of the Vince Lombardi Rest Stop on the New Jersey Turnpike?
Actor Gene Wilder, probably best known to anyone born after 1975 as Willie Wonka, was born June 11, 1933. Have you rewatched this movie as an adult? Because the Candy Man song is super creepy. Also, I found myself rooting for Veruca, or at least actively rooting against Charlie. Z.Z. Top drummer Frank Lee Beard turns 68 today.
Actress Adrienne Barbeau was born June 11, 1945. She was in The Swamp Thing. Remember that movie, the one where she falls in love with a human grape leave roll? May we all one day know a love so true.
Mobster Henry Hill was born on June 11, 1943. You’ve seen Goodfellas a hundred times too, right? One of my friends made the astute remark that the movie Overboard is one that you will always stop and watch on television, but you will rarely if ever see it the whole way through in one sitting. I think the same about Goodfellas. Though TV isn’t really a thing anymore, is it? Not related, but sort of related, my six-year-old daughters used an old-fashioned landline for the first time this weekend. One of them was dialing and she made a face and said: “It’s making a really weird noise Mom.” I said “That’s called a dial tone,” and felt as ancient as Methuselah.For tonight: I’ll meet you in New Jersey. We’ll smoke a pack of Old Golds and listen to Bon Jovi on the F.M. Wear a lot of hairspray, the ozone layer is fine.
Today is the first day of Vestalia, a nine day festival in Ancient Rome to celebrate the goddess Vesta,the virginal goddess of the hearth, home, and family. She is the daughter of Roman god Saturn and goddess Ops, who loosely correlate with the Greek Titans Cronus, Rhea, and daughter Hestia. During this festival, in hopes of blessings of fertility, Roman women would pay her tribute by walking through the city barefoot and leaving offerings at her temple, which was only open once a year during these handful of days. Also donkeys were trotted out and decorated with garlands. Because nothing says fecundity like virgins and donkeys.
Writer Harry Crews was born in 1935. He famously had a skull tattooed on his shoulder with a line from an E.E. Cummings poem: “How do you like your blue-eyed boy, Mr. Death?” That’s a pretty cool tattoo. Singer Tom Jones followed five years later (1940 if you don’t want to do the math.) “The Salt and Pepper Diner” story by comedian John Mulaney about playing Tom Jones over and over on a jukebox full of unsuspecting diners never fails to make me cry laughing.
Prince was born on June 7, 1958. You know, Purple Rain was the first cassette tape I ever bought. Judging from its release date, I was between seven and eight and owned a Walkman as big as a clock radio. Gordon Gano of the Violent Femmes was born today in 1963. Is there anyone out there that who doesn’t like this band? Because I feel like that is impossible. Also, Michael Cera turns 30 years old today. Feeling old now?
English Queen Anne of Bohemia died today in 1394, at the age of 28. Writers Dorothy Parker, E.M. Forster, and Henry Miller died on June 7th: 1967, 1970, 1980, respectively.
June 7, 1954, marked the very strange death of computer scientist Alan Turing. He died by cyanide poisoning, possibly accidental or possibly on purpose. He seems like someone I am going to need to read a biography about. Not only is he considered the father of artificial intelligence, his death is questionable as a suicide because a half-eaten apple was found by his body, and he was known to be interested enough in the tale of Snow White that some people who knew him thought maybe he killed himself with a poisoned apple. I am going to need more information.
Speaking of A.I., I followed my own advice and talked to the Robot Rose yesterday. She told me I had many good virtues. Actually, here is the actual conversation. Things got weird fast, but it wasn’t the most unproductive conversation I’ve ever had.
If today was a newborn, its Apgar score would be: 7 – okay breathing, not altogether colorless, but a little too floppy and seriously zero beat. Turn it around, if not for yourself, for Prince.
In 1796, in the War of the First Coalition, Napoleon triumphantly entered the city of Milan. In 1851 the first Australian gold rush was officially proclaimed. In 1905, 110 acres in Nevada next to the Union Pacific Railroad was auctioned off, and, alas, Las Vegas was born.
Did you know that Las Vegas shares a birthday with McDonald’s and Mickey Mouse? Mickey Mouse made his debut in 1928 in the animated short Plane Crazy. And on May 15, 1940, McDonald’s opened the doors of its very first restaurant in San Bernardino, California. What an unholy trio of…earnest aims gone awry?
Queen of France Margaret of Valois was born in 1553; astronomer and Hungarian priest Maximilian Hell in 1720 (isn’t every word of that bio perfect?). The moon crater Hell is named in his honor. He also believed in the healing power of magnets.
Writer Lyman Frank Baum was born in 1856. He wrote The Wizard of Oz. Swiss mountaineer Matthias Zurbriggen was also born on this day in 1856. He had kind of a tragic life. He spent most of his life climbing, both alone and as a guide, through the Alps, the Himalayas, and through mountains in South America, and New Zealand. But he spent the last years of his life as a vagrant in Switzerland and died by suicide at the age of 61.
Author of The Master and the Margarita Mikhail Bulgakov was born in 1891. That novel, much like Catch 22 and anything by William Faulkner, is one of a collection of books that I have started and stopped many times with the idea that if I could just pursue a little further, I will like them. But still, they stand unfinished on my bookshelves, small monuments to both my hubris and laziness. Ah well.
Emily Dickinson died today in 1886. Painter Edward Hopper in 1967. Singer June Carter Cash died in 2003.
May 15th seems kind of dark, no? Maybe it’s the miasma of French fry grease, Napoleon, Las Vegas, with a dash of Disney. Maybe because of the loss of both a poet and a painter who were masterful at capturing loneliness. And then our poor mountaineer. His story reminds me a little bit of the bizarre story about the “compulsive wanderer” on The Futility Closet podcast a few months back. So much struggle to make our way in the world, so much searching in search of nothing.
Which then reminds me of another podcast. If you have twenty minutes, The Slowest Distance Between Two Points is worth a listen. I’ll be over here, stuck on chapter one, page one of The Sound and the Fury.
The Pajama Game opened on Broadway today in 1953. I am not entirely clear of the plot with my exhaustive 60 second scan, but something about a pajama factory and demands of a seven and a half cent raise. Sounds topical. There are unions involved, so I can say with 100% certainty my father would not like it. Communists.
(I can’t believe I have worked in two quotes from the movie Clue in four blog posts. Prodigious).
In 1958, Ben Carlin became the one and only person to travel around the globe in an amphibious vehicle. It took him ten years, 11,000 miles at sea and 39,000 miles by land.
A photograph of w:Ben Carlin and Boye de Mente aboard their craft Half-Safe in Tokyo in late 1956. Unknown photographer.
Russian prince turned saint Alexander Nevsky was born in 1221. Danish physician Ole Worm (I really need to keep a list of perfect names) was born in 1588. According to his Wikipedia biography, he also went by his Latin name Olaus Wormius because of course he did. The small bones that stitch the larger structures of the skull are named after him. And those would be called the wormian bones. He seems to have been an odd duck, known for his cabinet curiosities, and his pet auk bird. Yet for all his whimsy, he did spend a considerable amount of time in his studies to determine that unicorns are not real, and were likely narwhals. Killjoy.
Also born today mathematician, geophysicist Alexis Clairaut in 1713. Also painter Georges Braque in 1882. American treasure Bee Arthur was born in 1922, and author Francine Pascal in 1938. She wrote The Sweet Valley High books. Take my word for it, she created a stunning and urbane teen series. I read all of them when I was twelve and once as an adult, I stayed at someone’s camp and found a whole box full of them that I read over a weekend. They held up.
Wow, we are just crushing dreams left and right. So I’ll just push through the death summary here. Actor Gary Cooper died today in 1961; painter Franz Klein died in 1962; and musician Chet Baker in 1988.
So how should I sum up today? May 13th seems to comprise labor and study; reflection and skepticism. You must own your burdens, put some improbable conclusions to rest, and, for fuck’s sake, can someone tell Lance Armstrong he’s not on the list?