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Title: Blog by Novelist William S. Frankl, MD

Archive for the ‘Theater’ Category

Dorothy Parker/American Writer

Tuesday, August 27th, 2019

A wonderful story about a wonderful writer. It is amazing how she overcame so many obstacles that stood in her way of reaching the top of the literary world

 

August 22 was the birth date of writer Dorothy Parker , born Dorothy Rothschild in Long Branch, New Jersey in 1893. Her mother died when she was young, and her father remarried a devout Catholic woman whom Parker despised. Parker dropped out of high school when she was 14 and never went back, although she rarely admitted later in life that she had never graduated from high school. She told one reporter: “Because of circumstances, I didn’t finish high school. But, by God, I read.”

After Parker’s stepmother died, she lived alone with her father for many years, taking care of him as his health failed. After he died, she wasn’t sure what to do. She found a job playing piano at a dance academy, and decided to try writing some light verse. She sold a poem to Vanity Fair, and the editor liked her so much that he got her a job writing captions at Vogue, which was also owned by Condé Nast. For an underwear layout, she wrote the caption: “From these foundations of the autumn wardrobe, one may learn that brevity is the soul of lingerie, as the Petticoat said to the Chemise.” She didn’t fit in well with the proper and stylish culture of Vogue, so she went back to Vanity Fair. She worked as the drama critic there while P.G. Wodehouse was on vacation, and she wrote poems and stories for the magazine. She and two of her coworkers  Robert Benchley and Robert Sherwood  started the Algonquin Round Table, a group that met daily over lunch at the Algonquin Hotel to play games, write funny poems, and make witty remarks. Their verbal escapades were recorded and printed in the newspaper, and Parker became famous for her witticisms. Members of the Algonquin Round Table were allowed in by invitation only.

Throughout the 1920s, she published poems and reviews and she wrote book reviews for The New Yorker in a column called “Constant Reader.” About Beauty and the Beast by Kathleen Norris, she wrote: “I’m much better now, in fact, than I was when we started. I wish you could have heard that pretty crash Beauty and the Beast made when, with one sweeping, liquid gesture, I tossed it out of my twelfth-story window.”

In 1934, Parker married her second husband, Alan Campbell, and they moved to Hollywood to work as screenwriters, which they were successful at. At a time when the average screenwriter made about $40 a week, Parker made $2,000 a week. She and her husband were nominated for an Academy Award for the film A Star is Born (1937), recently remade staring Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper. Parker was nominated again with a co-writer for Smash-Up, the Story of a Woman (1947). She became active in left-wing politics, especially labor unions and the Spanish Civil War. In 1949, she was put on the Hollywood blacklist, and her screenwriting days were over. Parker stopped writing much at all. She wrote bits for radio and occasional pieces for Esquire.

Toward the end of her life, Parker said of the Algonquin Round Table members: “These were no giants. Think who was writing in those days: Lardner, Fitzgerald, Faulkner and Hemingway. Those were the real giants. The Round Table was just a lot of people telling jokes and telling each other how good they were. Just a bunch of loudmouths showing off, saving their gags for days, waiting for a chance to spring them. It was not legendary. I don’t mean that,  but it wasn’t all that good. There was no truth in anything they said. It was the terrible day of the wisecrack, so there didn’t have to be any truth.”

She died at the age of 73 and left her estate to Martin Luther King Jr.

 

 

 

ELLA and SATCHMO

Wednesday, August 21st, 2019

My two favorite singers of the Jazz era were Ella and Satchmo, who often sang duets. Here are some short bios about them.

Ella Fitzgerald was born on April 25, 1917 in Newport News, Virginia. During her wonderful career she became known as the “First Lady of Song” and queen of jazz. Her smooth voice and technical skill remain unmatched in the jazz world now decades after her death.

Fitzgerald got her start at Amateur Night at the Apollo Theater in Harlem when she was just 17 years old. She had intended to dance during her performance, but a prior dancing act intimidated her so much that she decided to sing instead. She won first prize for the night.

Dubbed “The First Lady of Song,” Ella Fitzgerald was the most popular female jazz singer in the United States for more than half a century. In her lifetime, she won 13 Grammy awards and sold over 40 million albums. Her voice was flexible, wide-ranging, accurate and ageless. She could sing sultry ballads, sweet jazz and imitate every instrument in an orchestra. She worked with all the jazz greats, from Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Nat King Cole, to Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie and Benny Goodman. (Or rather, some might say all the jazz greats had the pleasure of working with Ella). She performed at top venues all over the world, and packed them to the hilt. Her audiences were as diverse as her vocal range. They were rich and poor, made up of all races, all religions and all nationalities. In fact, many of them had just one binding factor in common –––– they all loved her.

 

Personally, I, too loved every song she sang with, or without, accompaniment. However, my really most favorite songs were those she sang with Louis Armstrong.

She won 13 Grammy Awards over the course of her life, including one at the inaugural show in 1958. She also received the National Medal of Arts, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the George and Ira Gershwin Award for Lifetime Musical Achievement.

 

Louis Armstrong , the great jazz musician was born on August 5, 1901, in New Orleans. He earned the nickname “Dippermouth” as a boy singing for pennies on the streets of New Orleans. He would scoop up the coins and stuff them in his mouth so the bigger boys couldn’t steal them. Later, his effusive style of playing, in particular the way he blew high C’s on his trumpet, would earn him the name “Satchelmouth,” later shortened to “Satchmo.”

Armstrong was born in Storyville, the poorest neighborhood of New Orleans. He worked for a family of Russian Jews delivering coal to prostitute’s rooms. The Karnovsky’s were kind to him, helping him buy a tin trumpet. Because of them, he wore a Star of David pendant for the rest of his life.

As a teenager, he honed his skills playing dances, funeral marches, and riverboats. He met jazz greats like Bix Beiderbecke, Sidney Bechet, and King Oliver, who welcomed him to Chicago in 1924. From 1925 to 1928, he and his band, Louis Armstrong and The Hot Five, made more than 60 records, which influenced everyone from Wynton Marsalis to The Beatles, whom he displaced in 1964, when his rendition of “Hello, Dolly!” knocked them off the number-one spot on the Billboard Charts.

 

The records by Louis Armstrong and His Five–and later, Hot Seven–are the most influential in jazz. Armstrong’s improvised solos transformed jazz from an ensemble-based music into a soloist’s art, while his expressive vocals incorporated innovative bursts of scat singing and an underlying swing feel. By the end of the decade, the popularity of the Hot Fives and Sevens was enough to send Armstrong back to New York, where he appeared in the popular Broadway revue, “Hot Chocolates.” He soon began touring and never really stopped until his death in 1971.

The 1930s also found Armstrong achieving great popularity on radio, in films, and with his recordings. He performed in Europe for the first time in 1932 and returned in 1933, staying for over a year because of a damaged lip. Back in America in 1935, Armstrong hired Joe Glaser as his manager and began fronting a big band, recording pop songs for Decca, and appearing regularly in movies. He began touring the country in the 1940s.

In 1947, the waning popularity of the big bands forced Armstrong to begin fronting a small group, Louis Armstrong and His All Stars. Personnel changed over the years but this remained Armstrong’s main performing vehicle for the rest of his career. He had a string of pop hits beginning in 1949 and started making regular overseas tours, where his popularity was so great, he was dubbed “Ambassador Satch.”

In America, Armstrong had been a great Civil Rights pioneer for his race, breaking down numerous barriers as a young man. In the 1950s, he was sometimes criticized for his onstage persona and called an “Uncle Tom” but he silenced critics by speaking out against the government’s handling of the “Little Rock Nine” high school integration crisis in 1957.

Armstrong continued touring the world and making records with songs like “Blueberry Hill” (1949), “Mack the Knife” (1955) and “Hello, Dolly! (1964),” the latter knocking the Beatles off the top of the pop charts at the height of Beatlemania.

The many years of constant touring eventually wore down Armstrong, who had his first heart attack in 1959 and returned to intensive care at Beth Israel Hospital for heart and kidney trouble in 1968. Doctors advised him not to play but Armstrong continued to practice every day in his Corona, Queens home, where he had lived with his fourth wife, Lucille, since 1943. He returned to performing in 1970 but it was too much, too soon and he passed away in his sleep on July 6, 1971, a few months after his final engagement at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City.

He made many records with other singers, but his very best of these

William Shakespeare

Wednesday, July 10th, 2019

T.S. Eliot opened his magnum opus, The Wasteland” with the following words: ”April Is the cruelest month . . . .” Well, perhaps. But I believe April is a wonderful month ­­­­––– Shakespeare, Immanuel Kant, and Ella Fitzgerald were all  born in April. And, often overlooked is the freeing of Dachau, that pit of evil, by the American army, on April 29, 1945. So, in the next 4 posts are a few words about all four of these April miracles.

April 23,1564, was probably the actual birthday of William Shakespeare, the greatest writer in the English language, who was baptized on April 26, in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England. Unfortunately, he left behind no personal papers; so much of what we know, or think we know, about him comes to us from public and court documents, with a fair measure of inference and speculation. We do know that his father, John, was a glove maker and alderman, and his mother, Mary Arden, was a landed heiress. William’s extensive knowledge of Latin and Greek likely came from his education at the well-respected local grammar school. That was the extent of his formal education, which has led to hundreds of years of conspiracy theories disputing the authorship of his plays, since many found it unbelievable that he could have written so knowledgeably about history, politics, royalty, and foreign lands on a grammar school education. Various figures, such as Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, the 17th Earl of Oxford, and even Queen Elizabeth I, have been put forward as possible — though unproven — ghost writers.

We know that he married the older — and pregnant — Anne Hathaway when he was 18 and she was 26, and she gave birth to a daughter, Susanna, six months later. Twins Hamnet and Judith followed two years after that, and son Hamnet died at age 11. It’s speculated that his son’s death hit Shakespeare hard, because he began to write Hamlet soon afterward.

He moved to London around 1588 — possibly to escape deer-poaching charges in Stratford — and began a career as an actor and a playwright. By 1594, he was also managing partner of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, a popular London theater troupe. He was popular in his lifetime, but his popularity didn’t rise to the level that George Bernard Shaw referred to as “bardolatry” until the 19th century.

In 1611, he retired to Stratford and made out his will, leaving to his wife, Anne, his “second-best bed.” He died on or around his birthday in 1616, and was buried in the Church of the Holy Trinity in Stratford, leaving a last verse behind as his epitaph: “Good friend, for Jesus’ sake forbeare / to dig the dust enclosed here. / Blessed be the man who spares these stones, / and cursed be he who moves my bones.”

Though biographical details may be sketchy, his literary legacy is certain. He wrote 38 plays: including the great tragedies Lear, Hamlet, Macbeth and Othello. He also wrote 154 sonnets, and several epic narrative poems. He created some of the most unforgettable characters ever written for the stage, and shifted effortlessly between formal court language and coarse vernacular. The Oxford English Dictionary credits him with coining 3,000 new words, and has contributed more phrases and sayings to the English language than any other individual. His idioms have woven themselves so snugly into our daily conversations that we aren’t even aware of them most of the time, phrases such as “a fool’s paradise,” “a sorry sight,” “dead as a doornail,” “Greek to me,” “come what may,” “eaten out of house and home,” “forever and a day,” “heart’s content,” “slept a wink,” “love is blind,” “night owl,” “wild goose chase,” and “into thin air.”

Though we have no way of knowing whether the Bard of Avon was writing of his own impending retirement when he wrote Prospero’s soliloquy from The Tempest in about 1610, it’s satisfying to think so:

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Ye all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

 

Anne Hathaway/A Shakespeare Moment

Thursday, October 25th, 2018

 

This is the brief story of a remarkable woman still shrouded in mystery. The wife of the man who was the greatest writer of all time in the English language. What role did she really play in his life and was she his only love?

Anne Hathaway, the wife of William Shakespeare died on August 6, 1623, at the age of 67. Not much is known about Hathaway aside from mentions in legal documents, but we do know she was 26 and pregnant with an 18-year-old Shakespeare’s child when they married. She gave birth to their daughter six months after the wedding, and fraternal twins two years after that.

Shakespeare spent much of his remaining life apart from Hathaway, living in London and touring the country while she stayed behind in Stratford-upon-Avon. His will left most of his estate to their eldest daughter, with instructions that it be passed on to her first-born son. To Hathaway, he bequeathed only “my second-best bed.” Scholars argue over the significance and meaning of this legacy; some say it’s an obvious snub, but others suggest it was a final romantic gesture, referring to their marital bed. Whatever the case, Hathaway was buried in a plot next to her husband seven years later.

There is also no agreement on whether Shakespeare’s sonnet 145 was in fact written by him, but the final couplet suggests it may have been one of his first poems, written about his wife. These lines contain possible puns — a Shakespearian favorite — that could identify the subject as his wife: “hate away” for “Hathaway” and “And saved my life” for “Anne saved my life.”

Those lips that Love’s own hand did make
Breathed forth the sound that said ‘I hate’
To me that languish’d for her sake;
But when she saw my woeful state
Straight in her heart did mercy come,
Chiding that tongue that ever sweet
Was used in giving gentle doom,
And taught it thus anew to greet:
‘I hate’ she alter’d with an end,
That follow’d it as gentle day
Doth follow night, who like a fiend
From heaven to hell is flown away;
‘I hate’ from hate away she threw,
And saved my life, saying ‘not you.’

 

BenJonson/Great Playwright/Outrageous Rake

Tuesday, June 12th, 2018

June 11, probably in 1572, was the birthday of the playwright Ben Jonson. His plays include Every Man in His Humour (1598), Volpone (1606), The Alchemist (1610), and Bartholomew Fair (1614). A contemporary, friend, and rival of Shakespeare’s, Jonson was a heavy drinker and a fighter, no “Gentle Will.”

 

Jonson’s father died before he was born, and his stepfather was a bricklayer, so after a good education, young Ben spent some time laying bricks and then went off and joined the army. The story goes that he ran to the front of the lines and challenged a random soldier to single combat, then killed him. He went back to London, where he got work as an actor. Apparently he wasn’t a very good actor, but he was a good playwright. In 1597, he co-wrote a play called The Isle of Dogs, which got him in trouble with the government—it was too subversive, and he was thrown in jail for “leude and mutynous behavior.”

 

He was let out after a few months, but a year later, he killed a fellow actor named Gabriel Spenscer in a duel. He was arrested and he should have been hanged, but he pulled out a legal defense called “benefit of clergy”—since he could read the Bible in Latin, he got to go in front of a more lenient court, which rarely sentenced well-educated men. Instead, he got another stint in jail, and was branded on his thumb to remind him that he had almost been executed.

 

In 1604, he co-wrote a play called Eastward Ho! that mocked Scotland—since James VI of Scotland had taken over the throne from Elizabeth, making fun of Scotland was not tolerated, and Jonson was once more thrown in jail and informed that his ears and nose would be cut off. This threat never materialized, and when he was released, he hosted a banquet with friends to celebrate yet another narrow escape.

 

Jonson’s plays were more classically inspired than Shakespeare’s, less dependent on bawdy jokes and flashy duels. Jonson made plenty of disparaging comments about Shakespeare. He complained that his fellow playwright had “small Latine, and less Greeke.” And Jonson was probably alluding to Shakespeare, who did have a tendency to rip off plots from other people, when he wrote:

Poor Poet-Ape, that would be thought our chief,
Whose works are e’en the frippery of wit,
From brokage is become so bold a thief,
As we, the robb’d, leave rage, and pity it.
At first he made low shifts, would pick and glean,
Buy the reversion of old plays; now grown
To a little wealth, and credit in the scene,
He takes up all, makes each man’s wit his own :
And, told of this, he slights it. Tut, such crimes
The sluggish gaping auditor devours ;
He marks not whose ’twas first : and after-times
May judge it to be his, as well as ours.
Fool! as if half eyes will not know a fleece
From locks of wool, or shreds from the whole piece?

 

Unlike Shakespeare, Jonson was known as a slow, meticulous writer. After Shakespeare’s death, Jonson wrote: “I remember the players have often mentioned it as an honor to Shakespeare that in his writing, whatsoever he penned, he never blotted out a line. My answer hath been, would he had blotted a thousand. […] I loved the man and do honor his memory on this side of idolatry, as much as any: he was indeed honest, and of an open and free nature; had an excellent phantasy, brave notions, and gentle expressions; wherein he flowed with that facility, that sometimes it was necessary he should be stopped.”

 

Ben Jonson was famous for his ability to drink—it is said that when he converted from the Catholic Church to the Anglican Church in 1610, he downed the entire chalice of wine during his first communion.

 

His bar of choice was the Mermaid Tavern in Cheapside, where he was the ringleader of a group of literary men. There are stories about the great debates and battles of wit that Jonson and Shakespeare had over their pints at the Mermaid, surrounded by the likes John Donne, Sir Walter Raleigh, John Fletcher, Sir Francis Bacon, and Francis Beaumont—but this is probably not true. More likely it was Jonson and some younger literary disciples who were regular patrons.

 

After Jonson’s death, the playwright Jasper Mayne wrote an ode, “To the Memory of Ben Jonson,” and he wrote: “Such thy drought was, and so great thy thirst, / That all thy Playes were drawne at th’ Mermaid first.”

 

Garrison Keillor’s/Writers Almanac, June, 2017

 


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