Monday, January 31, 2011

Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes born 1 February 1902 (d. 1967)

Langston Hughes was an American poet, novelist, playwright, short story writer and newspaper columnist. Hughes is best known for his work during the Harlem Renaissance.

James Langston Hughes was born in Joplin, Missouri. His parents divorced when he was a small child, and his father moved to Mexico. He was raised by his grandmother until he was thirteen, when he moved to Lincoln, Illinois, to live with his mother and her husband, before the family eventually settled in Cleveland, Ohio. It was in Lincoln, Illinois, that Hughes began writing poetry.

Following graduation, he spent a year in Mexico and a year at Columbia University. During these years, he held odd jobs as an assistant cook, launderer, and a busboy, and travelled to Africa and Europe working as a seaman. In November 1924, he moved to Washington, D.C. Hughes's first book of poetry, The Weary Blues, was published in 1926. He finished his college education at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania three years later. In 1930 his first novel, Not Without Laughter, won the Harmon gold medal for literature.

Hughes, who claimed Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Carl Sandburg, and Walt Whitman as his primary influences, is particularly known for his insightful, colourful portrayals of black life in America from the twenties through the sixties. He wrote novels, short stories and plays, as well as poetry, and is also known for his engagement with the world of jazz and the influence it had on his writing, as in 'Montage of a Dream Deferred'.

His life and work were enormously important in shaping the artistic contributions of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. Unlike other notable black poets of the period — Claude McKay, Jean Toomer, and Countee Cullen — Hughes refused to differentiate between his personal experience and the common experience of black America. He wanted to tell the stories of his people in ways that reflected their actual culture, including both their suffering and their love of music, laughter, and language itself.

Langston Hughes died of complications from prostate cancer on May 22, 1967, in New York. In his memory, his residence at 20 East 127th Street in Harlem, New York City, has been given landmark status by the New York City Preservation Commission, and East 127th Street has been renamed Langston Hughes Place.

In addition to leaving a large body of poetic work, Hughes wrote eleven plays and countless works of prose, including the well-known 'Simple' books: Simple Speaks His Mind, Simple Stakes a Claim, Simple Takes a Wife, and Simple's Uncle Sam. He edited the anthologies The Poetry of the Negro and The Book of Negro Folklore, wrote an acclaimed autobiography (The Big Sea) and co-wrote the play Mule Bone with Zora Neale Hurston.

Academics and biographers today believe that Hughes was a homosexual and included homosexual codes in many of his poems, similar in manner to Walt Whitman, whose work Hughes cited as another influence on his poetry. Hughes' story 'Blessed Assurance' deals with a father's anger over his son's effeminacy and queerness.

To retain the 'respect' and support of black churches and organisations and avoid exacerbating his precarious financial situation, Hughes remained closeted. Arnold Rampersad, the primary biographer of Hughes, determined that Hughes exhibited a preference for other African-American men in his work and life. This love of black men is evidenced in a number of reported unpublished poems to a black male lover.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Patrick Gale

Patrick Gale born 31 January 1962

Patrick Gale is a British author.

Patrick was born on on the Isle of Wight, where his father was prison governor at Camp Hill, as his grandfather had been at nearby Parkhurst. The youngest of four children, the family moved to London, where his father ran Wandsworth Prison, then to Winchester. At eight Patrick began boarding as a Winchester College Quirister at the cathedral choir school, Pilgrim’s. At thirteen he went on to Winchester College. He finished his formal education with an English degree from New College, Oxford in 1983.

He has never had 'a grown-up job'. For three years he lived at a succession of addresses, from a Notting Hill bedsit to a crumbling French chateau. While working on his first novels he eked out his slender income with odd jobs: as a typist, a singing waiter, a designer’s secretary, a ghost-writer for an encyclopedia of the musical and, increasingly, as a book reviewer for The Daily Telegraph.

His first two novels, The Aerodynamics of Pork and Ease were published by Abacus on the same day in June 1986. The following year he moved to Camelford near the north coast of Cornwall and began a love affair with the county that has fed his work ever since.

He has written more than ten novels, a number of short stories and novellas in addition to a non-fiction book about the American novelist Armistead Maupin, with whom he has a close friendship.

He now lives in the far south-west, on a farm near Land’s End with his lover, Aidan Hicks. They raise beef cattle for the open market and broccoli for Sainsbury’s. His current ambition is to perfect the art of reversing a tractor and trailer around a corner.

His novel Notes From An Exhibition (2007) become a bestseller following its inclusion in Richard & Judy's influential Book Club. He published a new new novel The Whole Day Through and a cllection of short stories Gentleman's Relish in 2009

Patrick Gale - Official Website

Derek Jarman

Derek Jarman born 31 January 1942 (d. 1994)

Derek Jarman was an English film director, stage designer, artist, and writer.

Jarman was born in Northwood, Middlesex, boarded at Canford School in Dorset and from 1960 studied at King's College London. This was followed by four years at the Slade School of Art, starting in 1963. He had a studio at Butler's Wharf, London, and was part of the Andrew Logan social scene in the 1970s.

On December 22, 1986 he was diagnosed HIV positive, and was notable for later discussing his condition in public. His illness prompted him to move to Prospect Cottage, Dungeness, near to the nuclear power station.

Jarman's first films were experimental super 8mm shorts, a form he never entirely abandoned, and later developed further (in his films Imagining October (1984), The Angelic Conversation (1985), The Last Of England (1987) and The Garden (1990)) as a parallel to his narrative work.

Jarman first became known as a stage designer getting a break into the film industry as production designer for Ken Russell's The Devils (1970), and later made his debut in 'overground' narrative filmmaking with the groundbreaking Sebastiane (1976) [right], arguably the first British film to feature positive images of gay sexuality, and the first film entirely in Latin.

He followed this with the film many regard as his first masterpiece, Jubilee (shot 1977, released 1978), in which Queen Elizabeth I is transported forward in time to a desolate and brutal wasteland ruled by her twentieth century namesake. Jubilee was arguably the first UK punk movie, and among its cast featured punk groups and figures such as Jayne/Wayne County, Jordan, Toyah Willcox, and Adam Ant.

After making the unconventional Shakespeare adaptation The Tempest in 1979, Jarman spent seven years making experimental super 8mm films and attempting to raise money for Caravaggio (he later claimed to have rewritten the script seventeen times during this period). Finally released in 1986, the film attracted a comparatively wide audience (and is still, barring the cult hit Jubilee, probably his most widely-known work), partly due to the involvement, for the first time, of the British television company Channel 4 in funding and distribution. This marked the beginning of a new phase in Jarman's filmmaking career: from now on all his films would be partly funded by television companies, often receiving their most prominent exhibition in TV screenings. Caravaggio also saw Jarman work with actress Tilda Swinton for the first time.

The conclusion of Caravaggio also marked the beginning of a temporary abandonment of traditional narrative in Jarman's work. Frustrated by the formality of 35mm film production, and the institutional dependence and resultant prolonged inactivity associated with it (which had already cost him seven years with Caravaggio, as well as derailing several long-term projects), Jarman returned to and expanded the super 8mm-based form he had previously worked in on Imagining October and The Angelic Conversation.

The first film to result from this new semi-narrative phase, The Last of England told the death of a country, ravaged by its own internal decay and Thatcher's economic restructuring. '"Wrenchingly beautiful … the film is one of the few commanding works of personal cinema in the late 80s - a call to open our eyes to a world violated by greed and repression, to see what irrevocable damage has been wrought on city, countryside and soul, how our skies, our bodies, have turned poisonous,' wrote The Village Voice.

During the 1980s Jarman was still one of the few openly gay public figures in Britain and so was a leading campaigner against anti-gay legislation and to raise awareness of AIDS.

During the making of The Garden, Jarman became seriously ill. Although he recovered sufficiently to complete the film, he never attempted anything on a comparable scale afterwards, returning to a more pared-down form for his concluding narrative films, Edward II (perhaps his most politically outspoken work, informed by his Queer activism) and the Brechtian Wittgenstein, a delicate tragicomedy based on the life of the eponymous philosopher. It was a later complaint of Jarman's that with the disappearance of the independent film sector it had become impossible for him to get finance. Jarman made a side income by directing music videos for various artists including Marianne Faithfull, The Smiths and the Pet Shop Boys.

At the time when he made the film Blue, he was blind and dying of AIDS-related complications. Blue consists of a single shot of saturated blue colour filling the screen, as background to a soundtrack composed by Simon Fisher Turner featuring original music by Coil and other artists, where Jarman describes his life and vision. When it was shown on British television, Channel Four carried the image whilst the soundtrack was broadcast simultaneously on BBC Radio 3, a collaborative project unique for its time.

His final testament as a film-maker was the film Glitterbug made for the Arena slot on BBC2, and broadcast shortly after Jarman's death. Compiled and edited from many hours of super 8 footage shot with friends and companions throughout his career it is a moving collage of memories, people and moments lost in time, accompanied by a specially commisioned soundtrack from Brian Eno.

Jarman's work broke new ground in creating and expanding the fledgling form of 'the pop video' in England, and as a forthright and prominent gay rights activist. Several volumes of his diaries have been published.

Jarman also directed the 1989 tour by the UK duo Pet Shop Boys. By pop concert standards of the time this was a highly theatrical event with costumes and specially shot films accompanying the individual songs.

He is also remembered for his famous shingle cottage-garden, created in the latter years of his life, in the shadow of the Dungeness power station. The house was built in tarred timber. Its beach garden was made using local materials and has been the subject of several books. At this time, he also began painting again.

Jarman was the author of four books: Dancing Ledge, The Last of England, Modern Nature, and At Your Own Risk.

Derek a new documentary on Jarman's life and work, premiered on More4 on 19 February 2008.

Against the tide - Punk Britain, gay Britain, Thatcher's Britain - film-maker Derek Jarman tackled the lot. Jon Savage hails the resurrection of an irrepressible artist - The Guardian

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Howard Overing Sturgis

Howard Overing Sturgis born 30 January 1855 (d. 1920)

Howard Overing Sturgis was an American expatriate socialite and occasional novelist.

Sturgis was born in London to a rich and well-connected New England merchant family. Russell Sturgis, Howard's father, was a partner at Barings Bank in London, where he and his wife, Julia, were noted figures in society, entertaining such guests as Henry Adams, William Makepeace Thackeray, and Henry James, who became an intimate friend and mentor to Howard.

Sturgis was a delicate child, closely attached to his mother, and fond of such girlish hobbies as needlepoint and knitting, which he continued to practice throughout his life. He attended Eton and Cambridge, and, after the death of his parents, purchased a house in the country, Queen's Acre, called Qu'acre, where Howdie (as Sturgis was known to his coterie of friends) and his much-younger lover William Haynes-Smith (called 'the Babe') frequently and happily entertained a wide circle of friends, from androgynous boys from Eton to literary heavyweights such as James and Edith Wharton. He was the subject of a memorable sketch by E M Forster.

In 1891 Sturgis published his first novel, Tim: A Story of School Life, based on his unhappy days at Eton, which was followed, in 1895, by All That Was Possible, an epistolary novel written from the perspective of a retired actress. Both books went into several printings. Nearly ten years passed before Sturgis published his 'masterpiece', Belchamber, which was successful neither with the public nor with his friends - a bad review from his mentor James was especially galling. He was not to write again apart from a few short stories.

Jack Spicer

Jack Spicer born 30 January 1925 (d. 1965)

Jack Spicer was an American poet often identified with the San Francisco Renaissance.

Spicer was born in Los Angeles and spent most of his writing life in San Francisco. He spent the years 1945 to 1955 at the University of California, Berkeley, where he began writing, doing work as a research linguist, and publishing some poetry. During this time he searched out fellow poets, but it was through his alliance with Robert Duncan and Robin Blaser that Spicer forged a new kind of poetry, and together they referred to their common work as the Berkeley Renaissance. The three, who were all rumoured to be gay, also educated younger poets in their circle about their 'queer genealogy', Rimbaud, Lorca, and other gay writers. Spicer's poetry of this period is collected in One Night Stand and Other Poems (1980). His Imaginary Elegies, later collected in Donald Allen's The New American Poetry 1945-1960 anthology, were written around this time.

In 1954, he co-founded the famous Six Gallery, the scene of the famous October 1955 Six Gallery reading that launched the West Coast Beat movement. In 1955, Spicer moved to New York and then to Boston, where he worked for a time in the Rare Book Room of Boston Public Library. Blaser was also in Boston at this time, and the pair made contact with a number of local poets, including John Wieners.

He returned to San Francisco in 1956 and started working on After Lorca. This book represented a major change in direction for two reasons. Firstly, he came to the conclusion that stand-alone poems were unsatisfactory and that henceforth he would compose serial poems. In fact he wrote to Blaser that 'all my stuff from the past (except the Elegies and Troilus (his then unpublished play)) looks foul to me.' Secondly, in writing After Lorca, he began to practice what he called 'poetry as dictation'.

In 1957, Spicer ran a workshop called Poetry as Magic at San Francisco State College. He also participated in, and sometimes hosted, Blabbermouth Night at a literary bar called The Place. This was a kind of contest of improvised poetry and encouraged Spicer's view of poetry as being dictated to the poet.

Spicer's view of the role of language in the process of writing poetry was probably the result of his knowledge of modern pre-Chomskian linguistics and his experience as a research linguist at Berkeley. In the legendary Vancouver lectures he elucidated his ideas on 'transmissions' (dictations) from the outside, using the comparison of the poet as crystal set or radio receiving transmissions from outer space, or Martian transmissions. Although seemingly far-fetched, his views had a strong basis in contemporary linguistic theory. As such, Spicer is acknowledged as a precursor and early inspiration for the Language poets. However, many working poets today list Spicer in their succession of precedent figures.

Spicer died as a result of his alcoholism. Since the posthumous publication of The Collected Books of Jack Spicer (first published in 1975), his popularity and influence has steadily risen, affecting poetry throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Adam Lambert

Adam Lambert born 29 January 1982

Adam Mitchel Lambert is an American singer, songwriter, and actor from San Diego, California. In May 2009, he finished as the runner-up on the eighth season of American Idol.

Adam Lambert has been a stage actor since he was about ten years old. He was cast as Linus in San Diego's Lyceum Theater's production of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown. He also played the part of Joshua in The Ten Commandments: The Musical at the Kodak Theatre alongside Val Kilmer, and was one of the only actors in the play that garnered a positive review. He was also the understudy for the part of Fiyero in the touring and Los Angeles casts of the musical Wicked. Since 2004, he has regularly performed at the Zodiac Show, which was co-created by Carmit Bachar of the Pussycat Dolls. He also performed at the Upright Cabaret.

Lambert auditioned for the eighth season of American Idol in San Francisco, California. In the semi-finals, Lambert was voted into the Top 13.

On May 20, 2009, Lambert was announced as the runner-up for the eighth season of American Idol. There was a school of thought that the 'flamboyant' Lambert, already widely rumoured to be gay, lost out to the much blander and more mainstream Kris Allen - a devout Christian - by the Christian Right mobilising their voting forces to prevent a homosexual winning America's most popular show. It is likely that Adam Lambert, like several other notable non-winners of the show will prove to be the winner in the end.

Photos of Lambert kissing a man surfaced while he was competing on American Idol. Lambert confirmed that the photos were of him, stating he had nothing to hide and has always been open about his life, whilst stopping one step short of stating the fact that he was gay. Mainstream media speculation centered on Lambert's sexuality; presuming he was gay, he would be the first gay American Idol (although far from the first gay American Idol finalist). Much of the media focus regarded the readiness of American Idol voters for an openly gay winner. Asked by Rolling Stone whether the speculation surrounding his sexual orientation impacted the final vote, Lambert laughed and said 'probably'. Lambert confirmed that he was gay in a cover story interview with Rolling Stone, stating that 'I don't think it should be a surprise for anyone to hear I'm gay... I'm proud of my sexuality. I embrace it. It's just another part of me.'

Lambert released his debut album, For Your Entertainment, on November 23, 2009, via RCA Records/19 Recordings. The album debuted at number 3 on the Billboard 200 on the week of December 12, 2009, selling 198,000 copies in the United States. Ironically (or not), the number 1 album that week was the debut release by Britain's Got Talent runner-up, Scottish spinster and singing phenomenon, Susan Boyle. Like most American Idol 'winners', Lambert's post-show success has yet to translate internationally.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Greg Louganis

Greg Louganis born 29 January 1960

Gregory Efthimios Louganis is an American diver.

Louganis is best known for winning back-to-back Olympic titles in both the 3m and 10m events. He received the James E. Sullivan Award in 1984 as the top amateur athlete in the United States.

Louganis was raised in California to adoptive parents. He is of Samoan/Swedish descent, and was adopted by a Greek-American family.

At age 16, he took part in the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, where he placed second in the tower event, behind Italian Klaus Dibiasi. Two years later, with Dibiasi retired, Louganis went on to win his first world title in the same event.

In 1978, he accepted a diving scholarship to the University of Miami where he studied theatre, but in 1981 transferred to the University of California, Irvine, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts.

Louganis was a favourite for two golds in the Moscow Olympics. But an American boycott of the games, instituted by US President Jimmy Carter, in protest of the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, prevented him from participating.

Four years later, with the Games in Los Angeles, Louganis (who in the meantime had won two world titles in 1982) grabbed his revenge. With record scores and leads over his opponents, Louganis won gold medals in both the springboard and tower diving events.

After winning two more world championship titles in 1986, he repeated his 1984 feat in the 1988 Seoul Olympics, although not without difficulties. In one of his jumps in the springboard event, Louganis famously hit the diving board with his head while attempting a reverse 2 1/2 pike, but the resulting injury did not prevent him from going on to win the gold medal.

In 1994, Louganis announced he was gay and went on to compete in the Gay Games.

In 1995, Louganis's autobiography, entitled Breaking the Surface: The Greg Louganis Story, was published. Louganis revealed publicly that he was HIV-positive. The announcement caused some controversy because many felt he should have informed the treating doctors and those who used the pool of his HIV status following his injury, which caused light bleeding, in the 1988 Seoul Olympics. However, there was no medical danger to anyone using the pool following the injury.

Following the announcement of his HIV status, Louganis was dropped by most of his corporate sponsors, with the exception of Speedo, which continue to sponsor him to this day.

A 1997 made-for-TV movie was made from the book, starring Mario López as Louganis.

Since retiring from competitive diving, Louganis has done some acting and continues to speak out for various groups and organisations.

Greg Louganis Official Website

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Alfred Lynch

Alfred Lynch born 26 January 1931 (d. 2003)

Alfred Cornelius Lynch was a gay British actor on stage, film and television.

Lynch [pictured on the right] was born in Whitechapel, London, the son of a plumber. After attending a Roman Catholic school, he worked in a draughtsman's office before entering national service. Then, whilst working in a factory, he attended theatre acting evening classes. It was at these class that he met his life partner, James Culliford.

In 1958 he joined the Royal Court theatre and acted in a number of plays. After 1960 his career moved more into film and television, for example appearing with Sean Connery in On the Fiddle (1961), and The Hill (1965) and the 1990 film The Krays. The sixties were a golden age for original drama on British television with Play For Today and Armchair Theatre, and Alfie Lynch never went short of work. Some of his later television credits include reading children's stories on Jackanory, Going Straight and the Doctor Who serial The Curse of Fenric as Commander Millington [pictured].

Jimmy Culliford suffered a stroke in 1972, after which he and Lynch moved from London to Brighton, where, until Jimmy's death in 2002, Alfred largely put aside his career to look after him. It was the central relationship of Alfie's life. He attracted many passionate admirers but, despite little detours and adventures, which included a fling with Nureyev, it was to Jimmy that he always returned.

Alfred Lynch himself died from cancer in 2003.

Alfred Lynch's obituary in The Guardian

Monday, January 24, 2011

Aaron Fricke

Aaron Fricke born 25 January 1962

Aaron Fricke is a gay rights activist. He was born in Providence, Rhode Island. He is best known for the pivotal case in which he successfully sued his high school for not allowing him to bring his boyfriend to the senior prom at Cumberland High School in Cumberland, Rhode Island.

Shortly after he came out in 1980, Aaron began seeing another male student, Paul Guilbert, and the two fell in love. Aaron decided to bring Paul as his date to the prom:

'The simple thing would have been to go to the senior prom with a girl. But that would have been a lie - a lie to myself, to the girl, and to all the other students.'

When the high school informed Aaron he could not bring Paul to the prom, he filed suit in US District court. The presiding judge, Raymond J. Pettine, ruled in Aaron's favour, ordering the school to not only allow Aaron and Paul to attend as a couple but also to provide enough security to ensure their safety. The case received considerable media attention, and news camera crews filmed and interviewed the couple at the dance.

Aaron later wrote of his experience in a book, Reflections of a Rock Lobster: A Story About Growing Up Gay. He later collaborated with his father, Walter, on a book about their relationship and of the elder Fricke's coming to terms with his son's homosexuality. That book, Sudden Strangers: The Story of a Gay Son and His Father, was published shortly after Walter Fricke's death from cancer in 1989.

The suit brought by Aaron Fricke against his school is considered a major milestone in the history of gay rights. Each year cases of young same-sex couples being discriminated against by their schools happen around the world, and when these cases are brought to court, the suit first brought by Aaron Fricke and Paul Guilbert is invariably cited by the plaintiff's counsel.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Klaus Nomi

Klaus Nomi born 24 January 1944 (d. 1983)

Klaus Nomi was a German countertenor noted for remarkable vocal performances and an unusual, elfin stage persona. Nomi is remembered for bizarrely theatrical live performances, heavy make-up, unusual costumes, and a highly stylised signature hairdo which flaunted a receding hairline. His songs were equally unusual, ranging from synthesiser-laden interpretations of classic opera to covers of 1960s pop standards like Chubby Checker's The Twist and Lou Christie's Lightning Strikes.

Nomi was born Klaus Sperber in Immenstadt, Germany. His birthday is commonly observed as January 24, 1944, though the director of The Nomi Song stated at the New York City premiere of the documentary that Sperber's exact birthday is unknown.

Nomi moved from Germany to New York City in the mid-1970s. He began his involvement with the art scene based in the East Village. According to Andrew Horn's documentary film, Nomi took singing lessons and supported himself working as a pastry chef. Nomi moved in gay circles and in the performance underground.

After a chance meeting in a nightclub, David Bowie hired Nomi and drag-diva Joey Arias as back-up singers and consultants on costume design for a performance on Saturday Night Live which aired on December 14, 1979.

Nomi also collaborated with producer Man Parrish.

The 1981 rock documentary film, Urgh! A Music War features Nomi's live performance of Total Eclipse.

Many consider Nomi an important part of the 1980s East Village scene, which was a hotbed of development for punk rock, music, the visual arts, and the avant-garde. Although Nomi's work was not met with national commercial success at the time, he garnered a cult following, mainly in New York and in France.

In 2004 Andrew Horn made a feature documentary about Nomi's life, work and influence called The Nomi Song.

Nomi died on August 6, 1983 in New York City, one of the first celebrities to die of an illness complicated by AIDS.

The Nomi Song website

The middle video is Klaus Nomi's remarkable interpretation of Henry Purcell's The Cold Song from the opera King Arthur.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Sergei Eisenstein

Sergei Eisenstein born 23 January 1898 (d. 1948)

Sergei Mikhailovich Eisenstein was a revolutionary Soviet film director and film theorist noted in particular for his silent films Strike, Battleship Potemkin and Oktober. His work vastly influenced early film makers owing to his innovative use of and writings about montage.

Eisenstein was a pioneer in the use of montage, a specific use of film editing. He believed that editing could be used for more than just expounding a scene or moment, through a 'linkage' of related scenes. Eisenstein felt the 'collision' of shots could be used to manipulate the emotions of the audience and create film metaphors.

His many articles and books explain these methods in detail. He was one of the earliest theorists of the young film medium. His impact on film makers in the 1920s was enormous and his theories continue to be taught in film schools to this day.

In his initial films, Eisenstein did not use professional actors. His narratives eschewed individual characters and addressed broad social issues, especially class conflict. He used stock characters, and the roles were filled with untrained people from the appropriate class backgrounds.

Eisenstein's vision of Communism brought him into conflict with officials in the ruling regime of Joseph Stalin. Like a great many Bolshevik artists, Eisenstein envisioned the new society as one which would subsidise the artist totally, freeing them from the confines of bosses and budgets, thus leaving them absolutely free to create.

Eisenstein's popularity and influence in his own land waxed and waned with the success of his films and the passage of time. The Battleship Potemkin (1925) was acclaimed critically worldwide and popular in the Soviet Union. But it was mostly his international critical renown which enabled Eisenstein to direct The General Line (aka Old and New), and then October (aka Ten Days That Shook The World) as part of a grand 10th anniversary celebration of the October Revolution of 1917. The critics of the outside world praised them, but at home, Eisenstein's focus in these films on structural issues such as camera angles, crowd movements and montage, brought him - along with likeminded others - under fire within the Soviet film community forcing him to issue public articles of self-criticism and commitments to reform his cinematic visions to conform to socialist realism's increasingly specific doctrines.

Chafing under the constraints of Stalinism, Eisenstein accepted offers to work abroad, which led to unfulfilled projects in the United States and to the spectacular debacle of Que Viva Mexico!, which was never completed, taken over by the producers, and edited into three separate films.

Eisenstein returned to the Soviet Union in 1935, where he continued the spiral of falling out of and back into favour with the Stalinist regime. His remaining films - Bezhin Meadow [1937]; Alexander Nevsky [1939]; Ivan the Terrible, Part I [1942]; Ivan the Terrible, Part II: The Boyars' Plot [1946]; and the surviving fragment of Ivan the Terrible, Part III [1947] - were marked with the tensions of the political turmoil in which Eisenstein was embroiled.

Eisenstein's personal life was also chaotic. He married twice in response to political pressure, but his marriages were never consummated. His unexpurgated diaries, published as Immortal Memories, are filled with accounts of his infatuations with many young men, including his assistant, Grigori Alexandrov.

Often his infatuations (as in the case of Alexandrov) were with young heterosexual men, whom he would educate and assist in their careers. His drawings, exhibited during the centenary of his birth, include many illustrations of homosexual activity.

Despite his difficulties with censorship and other problems, Eisenstein created a remarkable legacy. His films reveal his continued commitment to experimentation in form. Nevsky, his first sound film, contains spectacular scenes, most notably the Battle on the Ice, as well as the incomparably thrilling film score of Sergei Prokofiev.

Ivan the Terrible, an intensely Expressionistic study of political power and corruption, with immense sets, voluminous costumes, and amazingly hyperbolic lighting, represents a contrast to this earlier work. It was not dynamically edited, but relied on extended long takes, in which dialogue, sound effects, and music were crucial. Ivan the Terrible pointed to new operatic possibilities in motion pictures.

From Strike to Ivan, Eisenstein's career always excited controversy - much of his work was either destroyed or confiscated - but he remains one of the most important filmmakers in history, the exemplar of the true intellectual artist.

Eisenstein suffered a hemorrhage and died at the age of 50. An unconfirmed legend in film history states that Russian scientists preserved his brain and it supposedly was much larger than a normal human brain, which the scientists took as a sign of genius.

Lester Horton

Lester Horton born 23 January 1906 (d. 1953)

Lester Horton was an American dancer, choreographer, and teacher.

Horton formed his first dance company, the Lester Horton Dancers, in 1932. That company evolved into what was briefly known as the Lester Horton California Ballets (1934) and then the Horton Dance Group (1934). The Horton Dance Group, billed in its film appearances as the Lester Horton Dancers, lasted until early 1944. Later, Horton attempted to develop a company on the East Coast for dancer Sonia Shaw, but Shaw's husband stopped underwriting the venture and the company collapsed before it could give any public performances. After a brief hiatus, Horton formed the Dance Theater of Los Angeles with his longtime leading dancer, Bella Lewitzky; their partnership ended when Lewitzky left in 1950. Horton's final company continued until 1960 under the direction of Frank Eng.

In order to finance his school and various dance companies, Horton choreographed a number of early Hollywood musicals, beginning with Moonlight in Havana (1942). Most of the films, like the Maria Montez vehicle White Savage (1943), were B-movie musicals. Horton's dancers also frequently worked at clubs, including the Folies Bergère in New York and Earl Carroll's Theatre-Restaurant in Los Angeles. Horton's best-known works, which he called 'choreodramas', are Salome (which occupied Horton for nearly two decades) and The Beloved.

Dance Theater made only one appearance in New York, during the last year of Horton's life. The troupe was scheduled to perform at the reputation-making theatre of the Young Men's and young Women's Hebrew Association on East Ninety-Second street in New York City. Upon arriving the troupe discovered the venue did not provide publicity and so the performance was largely unknown and not well attended. Only about 300 people showed for the Saturday night performance and only about 200 tickets were sold for the Sunday matinee. This netted the company a total of 100 dollars. All but one of the reviews was good.  There was not enough money to return home to New York and Horton had doubts about the company's financial ability to attend the Jacob's Pillow dance festival  later that summer. Horton's agent wired Horton the money to get the troupe home. At the time, Horton was drinking heavily and was emotionally and physically ill. Upon returning to Los Angeles he moved into a house on Mulholland Drive where he was attended to by his parents and friends.

Determined to perform at the Jacob's Pillow, the group travelled the Berkshires by car. The show was a success, though Horton could not afford to accompany the troupe to the festival. Riding on their success at the festival, the troupe was asked to open for Johnny Desmond in the autumn; they were so popular that they were invited back for another two-week engagement. Horton died of a heart attack at his home on November 2, 1953.

Since Horton's death, his dance technique and choreography have become widely known and practiced. Horton's legacy has survived through the Lester Horton Dance Theater Foundation, Inc., which is dedicated to preserving and promoting Horton's contributions as a dancer, choreographer, and educator. Also, various dance companies such as the Joyce Trisler Danscompany focus on Horton's technique. Horton developed his own approach to dance that incorporated diverse elements including indigenous peoples of the Americas/Native American dances and modern Jazz dance. Horton's dance technique, which is now commonly known as Horton Technique, emphasises a whole body, anatomical approach to dance that includes flexibility, strength, coordination and body and spacial awareness to enable unrestricted, dramatic freedom of expression.

Alvin Ailey, the most significant African American dancer and choreographer of the twentieth century and one of the key figures in American dance was a pupil of Horton's, and Ailey's company practise the Horton  Technique to this day.

Horton was involved with William Bowne from 1932 to 1949 when Bowne left Horton to marry a former member of Horton's dance company. Not long after, Horton became involved with film and theatre writer Frank Eng. Eng was with Horton until his death in 1953.  It is belived that Horton briefly dated Martha Graham, alough it is not a proven fact.

Randolph Scott

Randolph Scott born 23 January 1898 (d. 1987)

Randolph Scott was an American motion picture actor whose career spanned from 1928 to 1962.

As a leading man for all but the first three years of his cinematic career, Scott appeared in a variety of genres, including social dramas, crime dramas, comedies, musicals (albeit in non-singing and non-dancing roles), adventure tales, war films, and even a few horror and fantasy films. However, his most enduring image is that of the tall-in-the-saddle Western hero. Out of his more than 100 film appearances more than 60 were in Westerns.

Tall (6 ft 2 in), lanky, and handsome, Scott displayed an easygoing charm and courtly Southern drawl in his early films that helped offset his limitations as an actor, where he was frequently found to be stiff or 'lumbering'. As he matured, however, Scott's acting improved while his features became burnished and leathery, turning him into the ideal 'strong, silent' type of stoic hero. The BFI Companion to the Western noted:

In his earlier Westerns ... the Scott persona is debonair, easy-going, graceful, though with the necessary hint of steel. As he matures into his fifties his roles change. Increasingly Scott becomes the man who has seen it all, who has suffered pain, loss, and hardship, and who has now achieved (but at what cost?) a stoic calm proof against vicissitude.

During the early 1950s, Scott was a consistent box-office draw. In the annual Motion Picture Herald Top Ten Polls, he ranked tenth in 1950, eighth in 1951, and again tenth in 1952.

Following the making of Ride the High Country (1962), Scott retired from film making at the age of 64. Having made shrewd investments throughout his life, he eventually accumulated a fortune worth a reputed US$100 million.

During his retirement years he became friends with the Reverend Billy Graham. Scott was described by his son Christopher as being a deeply religious man. He was a Freemason and active in the York Rite. He was also an Episcopalian and a member of St Peter's Episcopal Church in Charlotte, NC, where he was buried.

Scott died at age 89 in Beverly Hills, California. He was interred in the Elmwood Cemetery in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Scott married twice. The first time, in 1936, he became the second husband of heiress Marion Du Pont. Reputedly the couple spent little time together and the marriage ended in divorce three years later.

In 1944, Scott married Patricia Stillman, with whom he adopted two children. The marriage lasted 43 years until Scott's death in 1987.

OK, so the first marriage sounds a little suspicious but what is Western hero Randolph Scott doing on Gay For Today?

Although Scott achieved fame as a motion picture actor, he managed to keep a fairly low profile with his private life. Off screen he became good friends with Fred Astaire and Cary Grant. He met Grant on the set of Hot Saturday and shortly afterwards they began rooming together in a beach house in Malibu that became known as 'Bachelor Hall'.

They would live together, on and off, for ten or more years, presumably because they liked each other's company and wanted to save on living expenses (they were both considered notorious tightwads), even if both were successful movie stars.

As Scott shared 'Bachelor Hall' with Cary Grant more than a decade, it was rumored that the two actors were romantically involved, and that the name 'Bachelor Hall' and the reported parade of women there were invented by the studio who wanted to keep their valuable actors away from any public scandal. In his book, Cary Grant: Grant's Secret Sixth Marriage, Marc Eliot claims Grant had a sexual relationship with Scott after they met on the set of Hot Saturday (1932).

In his book, Hollywood Gays, Boze Hadleigh, author of numerous books purporting to reveal the sexual orientation of celebrities, makes various claims for Scott's homosexuality. He cites gay director George Cukor who said about the homosexual relationship between the two: 'Oh, Cary won't talk about it. At most, he'll say they did some wonderful pictures together. But Randolph will admit it – to a friend.'

According to William J. Mann's book, Behind the Screen: How Gays and Lesbians Shaped Hollywood, 1910-1969, photographer Jerome Zerbe spent 'three gay months' in the movie colony taking many photographs of Grant and Scott, 'attesting to their involvement in the gay scene.' In 1995, Richard Blackwell published his autobiography From Rags to Bitches, where he declared he was lovers to both Cary Grant and Scott.

In 1944, Scott and Grant stopped living together but remained close friends throughout their lives. Both Grant and Scott consistently denied the allegations. Grant always vehemently denied being gay, and many of his friends have concurred over the years. Scott's adopted son, Christopher, also challenged the rumours. Following Scott's death, Christopher wrote a book entitled, Whatever Happened to Randolph Scott, in which he rebuts rumours of his father's alleged homosexuality. Scott's wife and daughter denied the rumours, too, as did many of Scott's close friends. Budd Boetticher, the director most often linked with Scott's work, had this to say about the rumors: 'Bullshit'.

Prior to and between his first and second marriages Scott was romantically linked with several prominent film actresses, including Lupe Velez, Sally Blane, Claire Trevor, and Dorothy Lamour.

The question is, I suppose, was Randolph Scott in enough Westerns to realise that there is no smoke without fire?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Conrad Veidt

Conrad Veidt born 22 January 1893 (d. 1943)

Conrad Veidt was a German actor, well known for his roles in such films as The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920) and Casablanca (1942).

He was born Hans Walter Conrad Veidt in Potsdam, Germany. In the 27 years between 1916 and his death, he managed to act in well over 100 movies, some of them classics, several of them highly significant cinema landmarks.

His starring role in The Man Who Laughs (1928) [left] was the inspiration for Batman's greatest enemy, The Joker. Veidt appeared in Magnus Hirschfeld's pioneering homosexual-rights film Anders als die Andern (Different from the Others, 1919) - credited as being the first gay movie - and in Das Land ohne Frauen (1929), Germany's first talking picture.

Veidt was vehemently anti-Nazi in his beliefs and he fled Germany in 1933, no longer safe. Bisexual but married twice before, he married a Jewish woman, Illona Prager, and a week afterward departed Germany forever. For a man so actively opposed to the Third Reich it is ironic that he is best known for playing Nazis in both All Through The Night and Casablanca. Settling in Britain he continued making films, notably three with director Michael Powell: The Spy in Black (1939), Contraband (1940) and The Thief of Bagdad (1940). Perhaps most tellingly, he also made the movie Jew Suss which was a satire of Nazi anti-Semitism. Although it was not a success with audiences, it did succeed in angering Josef Goebbels who banned all of Veidt's films from Germany.

He later moved to Hollywood, and starred in a few films but he is most well known in this period for playing the Nazi Major Heinrich Strasser in Casablanca (1943). He died of a heart attack a year later, while playing golf in Los Angeles, possibly as a result of his heavy smoking, aged just 50.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Kennith H. Burns

Kennith H. Burns born 21 January 1926 (d. 2007)

Kennith H. Burns was a founding member of the Mattachine Society, one of the US's first gay rights organisations, which was founded in Los Angeles in 1950 by activist Harry Hay and others.

Born in Santa Ana, Burns grew up in Long Beach. He briefly attended USC before joining the Army and serving in the medical corps during World War II. After the war, he returned to USC to study international relations.

Instead of pursuing a career in diplomacy, he went to work for the Carnation Co. in Los Angeles as a safety engineer, eventually rising to the post of safety director. He retired from the company in the 1980s.

In 1953, when McCarthyism was strengthening its grip on the national consciousness, Hay and other Mattachine leaders with communist ties were ousted and Burns assumed a more prominent role in the organisation.

The society moved in a more conservative direction during Burns' tenure as Mattachine president in the mid- to late 1950s. Along with other Mattachine leaders, including Harold Call and Don Lucas, he urged members to temper their public image and assimilate into society.

After stepping down from his duties as head of the Mattachine Society in 1959, he remained active in the gay and lesbian community and was honoured for his contributions by the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.

Burns died from lung failure 16 December 2007 in Burbank, California. He was 81.

Mel Cheren

Mel Cheren born 21 January 1933 (d. 2007)

Mel Cheren was an entrepreneur, record company founder and nightclub boss, often acknowledged as the Godfather of Disco.

Mel Cheren played a crucial role in the evolution of dance music. In the mid-Seventies, while working at Scepter Records, he introduced the 12-inch single and the instrumental B-side, which enabled DJs to mix and loop tracks and build the excitement on the dancefloor. He was also one of the prime movers behind the Paradise Garage, the New York nightclub famed for employing the DJ Larry Levan.

In 1976, Cheren co-founded the equally influential West End Records. The label sparked off the house music movement in Detroit and also scored several hits in the UK, most notably with Hot Shot by Karen Young (1978), Don't Make Me Wait by the Peech Boys and Do It to the Music by Raw Silk (both 1982), and Another Man by Barbara Mason in 1984.

Born in Everett, Massachusetts in 1933, Cheren started as an office clerk at ABC-Paramount Records in New York in 1960, progressed to sales rep and eventually became head of production. In 1970, he joined Scepter and was an early mover in the New York disco scene with acts like B.T. Express.

After Scepter folded in 1976, Cheren and his colleague Ed Kushins launched West End Records with Sesso Mato, a disco version of the soundtrack from an Italian comedy. The following year, Cheren provided the financial backing for his partner Michael Brody to open the Paradise Garage in Greenwich Village.

Since it was a private rather than a licensed club and didn't sell alcohol, the Paradise Garage could stay open all night and became the streetwise alternative to Studio 54. It also boasted the biggest dance-floor and the best sound system in New York, and hosted appearances by Grace Jones, Madonna, New Order, Phyllis Hyman, Colonel Abrams and Gwen Guthrie during its lifetime. In a notoriously faddish city and industry, the Paradise Garage managed to stay open until 1987.

West End became a very collectable label, in particular tracks like (Everybody) Get Dancin' by the Bombers from 1979 and the much-sampled Heartbeat by Taana Gardner from 1981. After a lengthy hiatus between 1985 and 1998, Cheren bought Kushins out and West End Records was reactivated. In 2001, the DJs Kenny 'Dope' Gonzalez and Little Louie Vega compiled a non-stop mastermix double-CD to celebrate the label's 25th anniversary. 'We were on the cutting edge without realising it,' Cheren said, looking back. 'I've always heard we had a special sound, but 'til today I still don't know what that was . . . If I liked a song, we would put it out.'

In addition to his role in music history, Cheren became a dedicated AIDS awareness activist. Seeing the impact of the epidemic at first hand, Cheren became actively involved with the Gay Men's Health Crisis (GMHC) in 1982. During that year, he donated his building in Chelsea rent-free to GMHC for use as their headquarters, until they moved into larger quarters in 1984.

Cheren's philanthropic efforts remained an integral part of his life and in 1987 he formed 24 Hours For Life, a not-for-profit organisation of media and music professionals which produced fundraising events for AIDS relief and education.

In 2000, Cheren published an autobiography entitled My Life and the Paradise Garage: Keep On Dancin', calling it 'the story of my gay generation, the world we built, and the world we lost'. One of the themes of the book was the devastation caused to the New York disco scene by the AIDS epidemic, to which Mel Cheren himself finally fell victim on 7 December 2007 at the age of 74.

Christian Dior

Christian Dior born 21 January 1905 (d. 1957)

Christian Dior was an influential French fashion designer. He was born in Normandy, France.

Born into a wealthy family, while growing up he spent much of his time in museums and galleries, but at his parents' insistence he studied political science at the École des Sciences Politiques.

After two years of military service Dior began his design career by selling sketches. Both before and after World War II (when he served in the south of France), Dior worked for a number of design houses. In 1946, backed by the textile manufacturer Marcel Boussac, he launched the House of Dior.

For his first collection in 1947, Dior created the extremely popular 'New Look'. In direct opposition to the 'manly and depraved' styles of the war period, the New Look celebrated femininity with rounded shoulders, cinched waists, and full bell skirts in luxurious fabrics. The New Look was considered revolutionary by the fashion press, but it was very popular and set the look of post-war women's fashion.

In the space of ten years Christian Dior created a fashion house whose name is famous worldwide. Each of his collections during this time was themed, and he was responsible for creating a whole series of new looks for women, including, for example, the short waistless sack dress or H-line (1954), the Y-line (1954), and the A-line (1955).

It was partly due to Dior's success that Paris was re-established as the capital of world fashion in the 1950s.

Dior also pioneered in the fashion world by setting up licensing agreements for furs, cosmetics, stockings, and accessories. These agreements assured Dior a world-wide presence and established policies that have since been much imitated.

In 1953 Dior hired Yves Saint Laurent as an assistant. After Dior's sudden death in Italy in October 1957, Saint Laurent became head designer and introduced the trapeze dress in his first collection.

Dior never married, and there were and continue to be rumours and speculation about his sexuality. When he first moved to Paris in the 1920s Dior was drawn to the artistic bohemian life of the city and became friends with artist Jean Cocteau.

Dior's sexuality has never been publicly disclosed and the issue is not mentioned in his autobiography published shortly before his death in 1957. The nearest he gets is in the penultimate chapter, 'Friendships and Frustrations', where he comments that he and Pierre Colle, the manager of a shop in the Rue Cambacérès in Paris where the surrealists exhibited, became 'intimate friends, for we both placed the same high value on friendship'.

The absence of any discussion of Dior's private life in his autobiography may constitute a kind of negative evidence of his presumed homosexuality, for it was difficult, if not impossible, for gay men in the public eye to come out in the first half of the twentieth century.

The House of Dior has continued to flourish under a series of chief designers. Marc Bohan replaced Saint Laurent when the latter was called up for military service in 1960; and in 1989 Italian Gianfranco Ferré took over from Bohan.

In 1990 the House of Dior was bought by luxury products manufacturer Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton (LMVH). In October 1996, LMVH chairman and CEO Bernard Arnault moved the enfant terrible of English fashion, John Galliano, from another of LMVH's major holdings, the House of Givenchy, to serve as chief designer at Dior, a post he held with great success until he was controversially dismissed in February 2011.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Will Young

Will Young born 20 January 1979

William Robert Young is an English singer and actor. He catapulted to fame in 2002 after winning the inaugural UK Pop Idol contest. He has continued to work in music, and also as an actor.

Young was born in Reading/Wokingham, Berkshire, with a non-identical twin, Rupert. He was educated at Horris Hill preparatory school and Wellington College.

He then attended the University of Exeter where he read Politics. In September 2001, he became a student at The Arts Educational Schools in Chiswick, London, starting a three-year course in musical theatre with a scholarship.

In February 2002 Young came to national prominence by winning the ITV television programme contest Pop Idol.

Contrary to popular belief, Will did not come from behind to win the contest. After having beaten the widely-accepted frontrunner Gareth Gates in the final show, it emerged that he had in fact gained the most votes in six out of the nine weeks of the live show.

Young's first single was a double A-side featuring Westlife's song Evergreen and Anything Is Possible, a new song written for the winner of the show by Cathy Dennis. In March 2002 this became the fastest-selling debut in UK chart history, selling 403,027 copies on its day of release (1,108,659 copies in its first week). It went on to sell over 1.7 million copies, and in the official list of the all-time best-selling singles in the UK issued later that year it was 11th. On 31 December 2009, Radio 1 confirmed that Anything Is Possible/Evergreen was the biggest selling single of the 2000s decade in the United Kingdom.

Young subsequently revealed that he was gay, in order to pre-empt a tabloid newspaper that was preparing to run a story 'outing' him. He also stated that he had never hidden, and was comfortable with, his sexuality.

He went on to win the Brits' Best Breakthrough Act award, and a plethora of other awards.

Taken from his second album, Friday's Child was first the hugely successful Ivor Novello award-winning single Leave Right Now. This second album is often deemed to be Young's most successful, selling over 1.6 million copies (5x platinum) and containing several tracks co-written by him, the album received a great many accolades and much critical acclaim.

His second Brit, in February 2005, was awarded for the single Your Game. Following sell-out theatre and arena tours in 2004, he toured again at outside festival venues in summer 2005. On July 6, 2005, he performed at Edinburgh 50,000 - The Final Push, the final concert of Live 8, where he performed a duet with James Brown singing Papa's Got A Brand New Bag.

Later in the year, Young met comedian David Walliams and the pair became good friends, with Young appearing at the Little Britain live stage show in Manchester, and later recording a podcast with Walliams, in which they chatted about various aspects of Young's career.

His third album, Keep On, was released in November 2005 together with the first single from the same, Switch It On. He released a second single in the form of All Time Love and a third single Who Am I.

In May 2006, Young was voted the UK's favourite artist 'ever' in a poll conducted by commercial radio, beating the likes of Robbie Williams, Paul McCartney and the Spice Girls.

Also in 2006, he sang Who Am I, Leave Right Now and Love the One You're With at the Prince's Trust 30th Birthday. In the autumm of 2006 he undertook a sell-out stadium tour of the UK, Ireland and South Africa, and also appeared at G-A-Y in London. During November Will performed in South Africa for Nelson Mandela's Unite of the Stars charity concerts.

Will added acting to his repertoire when he accepted a role in the BBC film Mrs Henderson Presents, starring Judi Dench and Bob Hoskins. The film was released in the UK in November 2005 to excellent reviews — not least for Young's performance as both actor and singer in the film.

Young made his serious stage acting debut proper in the Royal Exchange Theatre's production of The Vortex by Noel Coward from January to March 2007 and Young played the leading role of Nicky Lancaster, to a reasonable critical response.

In July 2007, he appeared at the Concert for Diana at the new Wembley Stadium. He sang Switch It On but the concert was running late and his performance of his hit song Leave Right Now had to be cut. He has also recently narrated an audio version of the Roald Dahl novel, Danny, the Champion of the World.

On Sunday 23 September 2007, Young performed at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club with the Vanguard Jazz Band to an audience of about 300 people who received him with rapturous applause, where he performed a set of mostly jazz standards.

Young took part in the Little Noise Sessions, a series of intimate, acoustic gigs for the learning disability charity, Mencap in November 2007 with special guests at Islington's Union Chapel, which is acclaimed for its ambience and acoustics. It was an intimate gig as the venue only holds 600.

In 2008 Will Young released his fourth album Let It Go, and toured the UK, culminating with an appearance at Elton John's Live New Year show at the O2 Arena in London, where they duetted on Daniel. He appeared on the popular BBC current affairs panel discussion Question Time in early 2009, having already spoken at the Oxford Union.

In late 2009 Will Young released a greatest hits album. Whether this represents a major shift of direction in his career is still unclear, although he appears to be increasingly diversifying into acting.

Will Young actively promotes various charities and issues, including Oxfam, Women's Aid, Mencap and the Prince's Trust.

Official website

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Stan Persky

Stan Persky born 19 January 1941

Stan Persky is a naturalised Canadian poet, writer, media commentator and philosophy lecturer.

Persky was born in Chicago, Illinois. As a teenager, he made contact with and received encouragement from Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and other writers of the Beat Generation. Persky served in the United States Navy, and then settled in San Francisco, California in the early 1960s, becoming part of a group of writers that included Jack Spicer, Robert Duncan, Robin Blaser and George Stanley - known as the San Francisco Renaissance.

In 1966, Persky moved to Vancouver, Canada, and attended the University of British Columbia, receiving degrees in anthropology and sociology. He became a Canadian citizen in 1972. During the 1960s and '70s, he was prominent as a student and civic activist and journalist.

After university, Persky worked at Vancouver Mental Patients Association and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation before becoming a college lecturer in the sociology department at Northwest College in Terrace, British Columbia. He has subsequently taught political studies and philosophy in various Canadian universities. Since 1990, in addition to living in Vancouver, he has resided part-time in Berlin, Germany.

He worked as a media commentator for the CBC, a literary columnist for The Globe and Mail and The Vancouver Sun, and has written for various magazines, journals and periodicals. Stan Persky is a long-time Vancouver public intellectual and literary activist.

Stan Persky's website

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Nils Asther

Nils Asther born 17 January 1897 (d. 1981)

Nils Asther was a Danish-born Swedish stage and film actor.

Born in Copenhagen, Denmark, Asther grew up in Sweden and attended the Royal Dramatic Theatre School in Stockholm. After returning to Copenhagen to do stage work, he soon began appearing in European films, working with acclaimed directors such as Victor Sjostrom.

Asther began his silent movie career in Sweden in 1916. He was discovered by Garbo's mentor Mauritz Stiller (with whom he reportedly had an affair) in the early 1920s. The darkly handsome actor was invited to Hollywood in 1926 and was successful through the early 1930s. By 1928 his good looks had made him into an intense leading man, playing opposite such stars as Pola Negri, Marion Davies, Joan Crawford, Barbara Stanwyck - notably The Bitter Tea of General Yen (1933) - and Greta Garbo with whom he made two films. He had the misfortune to be labelled 'the male Greta Garbo'. His foreign looks made him a popular actor, and he soon grew a thin moustache which amplified his suave appearance.

With the arrival of sound in movies, Asther took voice lessons so as to minimise the presence of his accent but leading roles became harder to secure. In 1935 he was forced to seek work in England after breach of contract lead to him being blacklisted. Although allowed back in 1941, his career in Hollywood dwindled throughout the 1940s, and he soon returned to Sweden, where he remained an active actor on stage and television until his death.

Asther was bisexual and was smitten with Garbo for a while and, like Gilbert, unsuccessfully proposed in 1929 while they were filming The Single Standard.

He was briefly married to the actress Vivian Duncan.

He died in 1981.

Oscar Browning

Oscar Browning born 17 January 1837 (d. 1923)

Oscar Browning was an English writer, historian and educational reformer, born in London, the son of a merchant, William Shipton Browning. He was educated at Eton College, from Eton he went up to King's College, Cambridge, where he became fellow and tutor, graduating fourth in the classical tripos of 1860, and where he was inducted into the exclusive Cambridge Apostles, a debating society for the Cambridge elite.

In 1868 he became the lover of artist Simeon Solomon. He was for fifteen years a master at Eton College, until he was dismissed in the Autumn of 1875 following a dispute over his 'overly amorous' (but purportedly chaste) relationship with a pupil, George Curzon. He had taken Curzon on a trip through Europe with Curzon's father's permission, despite having been warned away from the boy by the Headmaster at Eton, F W Hornby. His parents' church, St. Andrew's, in Clewer, describes the reasons for his dismissal as 'his injudicious talk, his favourites, and his anarchic spirit'.

After Eton he took up a life Fellowship at King's College, Cambridge, where he achieved a reputation as a wit. He was universally known as 'O.B.' He travelled to India at Curzon's invitation after the latter had become viceroy. He resumed residence in 1876 at Cambridge, where he became university lecturer in history. He soon became a prominent figure in college and university life, encouraging especially the study of political science and modern political history, the extension of university teaching and the movement for the training of teachers.

He was principal of Cambridge University Day Training College for Teachers between 1891 and 1909, treasurer of the Cambridge Union Society between 1881 and 1902, founding treasurer of the Cambridge University Liberal Club between 1885 and 1908, and president of the Cambridge Footlights between 1890 and 1895.

He stood for Parliament three times as a Liberal.

He left Cambridge in 1908 and retired to Bexhill-on-Sea. In 1914 he was visiting Italy when World War I broke out. He decided to stay there and spent his later years in Rome where he died in 1923 at the age of eighty-six.

A large part of his papers disappeared. These include 'all Browning's letters to his mother, diaries that covered the whole of his career from his arrival at Eton in 1851, much of his correspondence as an Eton master, and no doubt also a number of his subject files'. This disappearance has been attributed to Hugo Wortham, Browning's nephew and sole executor and legatee, who took the materials to produce a biography of his uncle, Victorian Eton and Cambridge: being the life and times of Oscar Browning.

Illustration: an 1888 cartoon of Oscar Browning from a Vanity Fair series of Teachers and Headmasters.

Thomas Anthony Dooley

Thomas Anthony Dooley born 17 January 1927 (d. 1961)

Thomas Anthony Dooley III was an American Catholic who, while serving as a physician in the United States Navy, became increasingly famous for his humanitarian and anti-Communist activities in South East Asia during the late 1950s until his early death from cancer. Based on his experiences working in Vietnam and Laos, he authored a number of popular anti-communist books in the years preceding the Vietnam War.

Dooley was born in St Louis, Missouri and raised in a Catholic Irish-American household. He attended St Louis University High School, went to college at the University of Notre Dame in 1944 and enlisted in the United States Navy's corpsman program, serving in a naval hospital in New York. In 1946 he returned to Notre Dame, and in 1948 entered the St Louis University Medical School. When he graduated in 1953, after repeating his final year of medical school, he re-enlisted in the navy. He completed his residency at Camp Pendleton, California and then at Yokusuka, Japan. In 1954 he was assigned to the USS Montague which was travelling to Vietnam to evacuate refugees.

While Dooley was working in refugee camps in Haiphong, he came to the attention of Lieutenant Colonel Edward G. Lansdale, head of the CIA detail in Saigon. Dooley was chosen as a symbol of Vietnamese-American cooperation, and was encouraged to write about his experiences in the refugee camps. He also reportedly collected intelligence for the CIA.

In 1956 his book Deliver Us from Evil was released, establishing Dooley as a strong anti-communist in the United States. While on a promotional tour for the book, Dooley was accused and investigated for participating in homosexual activities, and was forced to resign from the navy in March 1956. The story of his forced resignation from the military can be found in the book Conduct Unbecoming by Randy Shilts.

After leaving the navy, Dooley went to Laos to establish medical clinics and hospitals under the sponsorship of the International Rescue Committee. Dooley founded the Medical International Cooperation Organization (MEDICO) under the auspices of which he built hospitals at Nam Tha, Muong Sing, and Ban Houei Sa. During this same time period he wrote two books, The Edge of Tomorrow and The Night They Burned the Mountain about his experience in Laos.

In 1959 Dooley returned to the United States for cancer treatment; he died in 1961 from malignant melanoma. Following his death John F. Kennedy cited Dooley's example when he launched the Peace Corps. He was also awarded a Congressional Gold Medal posthumously. There were unsuccessful efforts following his death to have him canonised as a Roman Catholic saint.