Monthly Archives: October 2012

Thought of the Day 10.25.12 Anne Tyler

“My family can always tell when I’m well into a novel because the meals get very crummy.”
Anne Tyler

Anne Tyler was born on this day in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1941. She is 71 years old.

She is the oldest of four children. Her parents moved around, searching for the best place to raise the family, but settled, when Anne was six, in the Celo Quaker Community near Burnsville North Carolina. Anne and her siblings attended a small local school. She says she never planned on being a writer, but would tell herself stories to get to sleep at night. She liked Westerns, but, her favorite book was Virginia Lee Burton’s tale, The Little House. Later she read Eudora Welty who showed her “that very small things are often really larger than the large things.” [Tyler from a 1977 New York Times interview.]

She majored in Russian at Duke University, but an English 101 class with Professor Reynolds Price started her on a literary career. Tyler  graduated at 19 Phi Beta Kappa and Price introduced her to his literary agent.  Tyler won the Anne Flexner creative writing award twice at Duke. She went on to Columbia to do post-graduate work in Russian studies at Columbia. She worked  as a bibliographer at Duke and at the law library at McGill University in Montreal after graduating. She published short stories in The New Yorker, the Saturday Evening Post and Harper’s Magazine prior to settling in Baltimore and marrying psychiatrist Taghi Modarressi.

Her first novel, If Morning Ever Comes was published in 1964. The Tin Can Tree followed a  year later. Tyler doesn’t like either of the books, and almost left the manuscript for ‘Morning’ on a plane on purpose. There is a five-year gap between ‘Tin Can’ and her third novel A Slipping-Down Life. She spent the time productively — she had her two daughters, Tezh and Mitra.

In 1974 she published Celestial Navigation. It is one of her favorite’s (one of mine too.) Here’s the Amazon write up…

Thirty-eight-year-old Jeremy Pauling has never left home. He lives on the top floor of a Baltimore row house where he creates collages of little people snipped from wrapping paper. His elderly mother putters in the rooms below, until her death. And it is then that Jeremy is forced to take in Mary Tell and her child as boarders. Mary is unaware of how much courage it takes Jeremy to look her in the eye. For Jeremy, like one of his paper creations, is fragile and easily torn–especially when he’s falling in love…. []

Tyler wrote one book about every two years. So by 1980 she’d published eight novels.  Searching for Caleb, Earthly Possessions and Morgan’s Passing rounded out the early list.

In 1982 she published Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant. ‘Homesick’ “explores tensions inside a family – for Tyler it is the basic battlefield of all society.” [Books and Writers] The book was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the Pen/Faulkner Award. [And it remains my favorite of Tyler’s novels. This book would be on my Desert Island Bookshelf*.]

Book #10, The Accidental Tourist, put Tyler on the map. Not only did she win the national Book Critics Circle Award for it in 1985, but it was made into a major motion picture starring William Hurt and Geena Davis. It too was shortlisted for a Pulitzer, but Tyler had to wait one more book before capturing that prize. [I loved the sibling interaction in this one, as well as the hope for new and unlooked for love.]

Of her writing process Tyler said:

“I think of my work as a whole. And really what it seems to me I’m doing is populating a town. Pretty soon it’s going to be just full of lots of people I’ve made up. None of the people I write about are people I know. That would be no fun. And it would be very boring to write about me. Even if I led an exciting life, why live it again on paper?… I hate to travel, but writing a novel is like taking a long trip. This way I can stay peacefully at home.” [Tyler from a 1977 New York Times interview.]

Breathing Lessons earned the Pulitzer and was named Time Magazine’s Book of the Year. Maggie and Ira have been married for 28 years. Things have gotten, shall we say “comfortable?” Like an old leather recliner is comfortable. They take a 90-mile trip to a funeral and “Tyler explores the problems of marriage, love and happiness” [Ibid] [Read it, and you’ll never eat fried chicken again with out a remembering the melancholy cooking scene near the end of this book.] It was made into a Hallmark Hall of Fame television movie in 1994 starring James Garner and Joanne Woodward and into a stage play.

1991 brought Saint Maybe with guilt ridden 17-year-old Ian Bedloe dropping out of school to take care of his dead brother’s children.  School Library Journal says of the novel:

“Tyler’s remarkable novel pulls at the heart-strings and jogs the memories of forgotten youth. Ian’s story is neither action packed nor fast-moving, but each page will be eagerly anticipated. “[]

Ever feel like your family takes your for granted and no one listens to you when you speak?  Delia Grinstead, the heroine of Ladder of Years, does. She REALLY does. And when things come to a head during a trip to the beach she walks away from it all to re-discover who she really is.

A Patchwork Planet was another of my favorites. 29-year-old Barnaby is the family’s black sheep. He got into trouble as a teen and now he doesn’t aspire to much more than helping out old people in his job at “RENT-A-BACK.” There’s a cast of fantastic, spindly, eccentric clients, and Barnaby’s less than loveable family. Then there’s Barnaby himself…

“Sharp and impatient at painful–and painfully funny–family dinners, apparently unable to keep his finger off the auto-self-destruct button every time his life improves. As much as his superb creator, he is a poet of disappointment, resignation, and minute transformation.” [Kerry Field review on]

Tyler’s 15th Novel is Back When We Were Grownups. The book is about widow, Rebecca Davitch, who reassesses her life at the age of 53.  The Amateur Marriage centers on the crumbling marriage of Michael and Pauline Anton. Married just after he returned from WWII the couple wonders if they know anything more about each now than they did 30 years ago. Two families adopting Korean infant daughters meet at the airport at the beginning of Digging To America. The novel follows the two different families (with wildly different parenting techniques) who meet up every year for an annual Arrival Party. Tyler’s handling of mixed cultures adds a new dimension to her usual mix of excellent social commentary.
Liam Pennywell is the protagonist of Noah’s Compass. He is a teacher forced into early retirement who struggles with the fact that he’s never really reached his full potential.

Her latest novel is The Beginner’s Goodbye, which the Boston Globe calls:

“An absolute charmer of a novel about grief, healing, and the transcendent power of love . . . With sparkling prose and undeniable charm, Tyler gets at the beating heart of what it means to lose someone, to say goodbye, and to realize how we are all, perhaps, always ultimate beginners in the complex business of life . . . A dazzling meditation on marriage, community, and redemption.” [Boston Globe review,]

Tyler wrote two children’s book, Tumble Tower and Timothy Tugbottom Says NO! Both were illustrated by her daughter Mitra Modarressi. Tumble Tower with the fabulous Molly the Messy is a must for emergent readers who want a giggle and a hug. (I haven’t read Timothy.)

She jots notes on index card where ever she happens to be in her house then collects them in one of two metal boxes. There is a blue box for NOVEL notes and a second box for SHORT STORIES.
She says she isn’t driven to write but is “driven to get things written down before (she) forget(s) them.” [Ibid] Then once it is all written down she reads it all back and “suddenly it seems as if someone else is telling me the story and I say ‘now I see’ and then I go all the way back and drop references to what it means.”[Tyler from a 1977 New York Times interview.]

“Sometimes a book will start with a picture that pops into my mind and I ask myself questions about it and if I put all the answers together I’ve got a novel.” [Tyler from a 1977 New York Times interview.]


You may have noticed that I’ve quoted a rather old New York Time’s interview quite a bit in this bioBlog. That’s because Tyler very seldom gives interviews.

I read most of her early books in my twenties but I’m going to go put them on my Kindle now. I wonder how much they’ve changed because of how much I’ve changed over the years? I know one thing that will change… the font size. I will pump up that font size to something nice and big for these ole eyes. Ha!


*So … what 10 books would you want on your Desert Island Bookshelf ? I’d definitely have Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant on my shelf. I know that Persuasion, Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice would be on there too. (I’d like to be clever and get a Jane Austen collection with all six novels, but then the font size would be too small to read) How about you? What books would make the list?



Thought of the Day 10.24.12 Kweisi Mfume

“And it really gets down to an issue of class. The poor and the poorest of the poor tend to be the ones that are being missed by the census,”
–Kweisi Mfume

Mfume delivering a speech at NOAA during Black...

Mfume delivering a speech at NOAA during Black History Month, 2005 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Frizzel Gerald Gray was born on this day in Tuner Station, Dundalk just outside of Baltimore, Maryland in 1948. He is 64 years old.

He is the oldest of four siblings. His father left the family when Gray was a 11 and his mother, Mary Elizabeth Gray, raised the children as best she could as a single mother. She died of cancer when he was 16.

“After she died of cancer, things spun out of control.” Mfume quit high school during his second year and went to work to help support his sisters. At times he worked as many as three different jobs in a single week.” [Kweisi Mfume Biography. Encyclopedia of the World Biography

He began to hang out on the corner drinking with friends to blow off steam. He admits to hanging with the wrong crowd. He could feel his life spiraling out of control as he was arrested on suspicion of theft “Because” he said in a U.S. News and World Report interview ” I happened to be black and happened to be young.” And soon found himself the teenaged parent of five children.

But on a July night in the late 60s all that changed. He felt something come over him and he stepped away from the corner and toward the future. He spent “the rest of the night in prayer, then proceeded to earn his high-school diploma and pursue a college degree.” [IBID] He changed his name to Kweisi Mfume, a phrase that means “conquering son of kings” in Ghana.

He began to work in radio, first as a volunteer than as an announcer. When his college, Morgan State University  opened its own radio station Mfume became the program director.
Flag of Baltimore, Maryland. Image created by ...

Flag of Baltimore, Maryland. Image created by uploader based on images found at and, as well as other images found on the web. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He parlayed his popularity on the Radio and in Baltimore’s African-American community into politics in 1978 when he ran for Baltimore City Council. There he became a vocal critic of Mayor William Donald Schaefer whom he accused  of ignoring poor neighborhoods. Eventually Mfume learned the three-pronged art of negotiation, compromise and coalition building.

DSC_0120 (Photo credit: owillis)

In 1986 he ran for U.S. House of Representatives and won a seat in Congress. He worked on the House Committee on Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs and later on farming and zoning issues. He maintained a strong tie to Baltimore City and the residents that lived in the inner city.
By his fourth term, Mfume had enough influence to become chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, a group in Congress that supports the interests of African-Americans. Soon after his election as chairman, Mfume and the Caucus presented a list of demands to President Bill Clinton (1946–), most of them having to do with federal aid to cities and the poor. [IBID]
In 1996 Mfume left Congress and became the president of the NAACP (the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He successfully managed the organization’s financial issues and illuminated the NAACP’s $4.5 million debt. He worked to address “affordable health care, conservation, voting reform, and hate crimes.” [IBID.] He helped raise over $90 million and created the NAACP’s National Corporate Diversity Project during his tenure at the organization. His term at the NAACP ended on January 1, 2005.
Kwesi Mfume, Fmr Prez of NAACP

Kwesi Mfume, Fmr Prez of NAACP (Photo credit: Youth Radio)

Mfume made an unsuccessful bid for a U.S. Senate seat. Although he remains active as a political supporter and organizer he has not run for public office since. Currently he serves on a number of boards of public and private institutions such as the National Advisory Council on Minority Health and Health Disparities, the Platform Committee of the Democratic National Convention and the National Advisory Council of Boy Scouts of America. He actively lectures at…
Colleges, Universities, Corporations, and Bar Associations across the country on corporate diversity, compliance, inclusion, disparities in health care, tolerance and the new challenges of gender and race. []

Logo Design: Hereford UMC Venture Zone Blast

Logo Design: Hereford UMC Venture Zone Blast


I bet you are wondering what this is doing here, right? Well, I spent most of the morning posting on my sister site…, and I wanted to encourage my ritaLOVEStoWRITE folks to jump over there and take a look.

Because design is the Dr. Jekyll to my writing Mr. Hyde (except the both know about the other and nobody dies == at least I  THINK nobody has died…)

I have lots more to put up on the design side, but the book covers, mag covers, logos etc will give you an idea of what I do.



Thought of the Day 10.23.12 Ang Lee

“I did a women’s movie, and I’m not a woman. I did a gay movie, and I’m not gay. I learned as I went along.”
— Ang Lee

Ang Lee

Ang Lee (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ang Lee was born on this day in Chaochou in Pingtung, Taiwan in 1954. He is 58 years old.

His parents put a heavy emphasis on a classical Chinese education, including culture, art, and calligraphy. His father was the principal at his high school, and Ang was expected to become an academic, perhaps a professor. But, his interests in drama took him in another direction.

After graduating from The national Taiwan College of Arts and completing his mandatory service in the Republic of China’s military, Ang Lee attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where he received his BFA in Theatre/Theater Direction and New York University where he earned his Masters in Film Production.

At NYU he worked with Spike Lee on Joe’s Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads. His Shades of the Lake was a Best Drama pick in Short Film in Taiwan and his Fine Line, his thesis film, won the Outstanding Direction Wasserman Award and was later shown on the BBC.

Cover of "The Wedding Banquet"

Cover of The Wedding Banquet

His professional career was off to a slow start. After struggling for six years he submitted the screenplays for Pushing Hands and The Wedding Banquet to a Taiwanese  competition in 1990. The scripts came in first and second.

Lee … eventually making his directorial debut in 1992 with Pushing Hands. A comedy about the generational and cultural gaps in a Taiwanese family in New York, it won awards in Lee‘s native country. []

The Wedding Banquet had an art house release in the US and Lee found a much wider audience. It was the second film in his “Taiwanese Trilogy” and like the others it featured generational and cultural conflicts. Here Winston Chao played…

a homosexual Chinese man who feigns a marriage in order to satisfy the traditional demands of his Taiwanese parents. It garnered Golden Globe and Oscar nominations, and won a Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. [IMDB]

The third film in his valentine to Taiwan  was Eat Drink Man Woman. It tells the story of a semi-retired chef and his three grown daughters. It cemented his role as “A warmly engaging storyteller [Janet Maslin, The New York Times]

Cover of "Eat Drink Man Woman"

Cover of Eat Drink Man Woman

Lee switched continents  and centuries when he helmed his next film, Emma Thompson’s wonderful adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. It won a BAFTA  and Golden Globe award for Best Picture. Lee was voted Best Director by New York Film Critics Circle.  Austen’s resurgence in popularity can be traced back to Lee’s Sense and Sensibility and the Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle Pride and Prejudice mini-series that came a half decade later. [S&S is one of my personal favorite Austen film adaptations. Alan Rickman’s Col. Brandon still makes me sigh.]

Back in 20th century (this time 1973 Connecticut), Lee tackled a dysfunction family in crisis in The Ice Storm. The film starred Kevin Kline, Joan Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Tobey Maguire, Christina Ricci and Elijah Wood.

He worked with Tobey Maguire again in Ride with the Devil, a Civil War tale about two friends who join the Bushwhackers in Missouri.

Cover of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon ...

Cover via Amazon

Next came the magical Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. It is the story of a mysterious young assassin who steals a magical sword and the two martial arts masters who set out retrieve it. The chase through the bamboo forest alone is worth the price of a rental.

With movies about family drama, English classical literature and Asian mystical martial arts under his belt Lee did  the next logical thing… he directed a movie based on the Marvel Comic’s hero the Hulk.

Star-crossed lovers. The poster was fashioned ...

Star-crossed lovers. The poster was fashioned after Titanic ‘ s. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

IN 2005 Lee tackled his most controversial movie yet, Brokeback Mountain. The film starred Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal,

The film’s sensitive and epic portrayal of a thriving romance that survives between two Wyoming cowboys in the 1960’s was praised as both elegiac and grounded. Lee‘s deft handling of material that simultaneously drew on the established themes of classic cinema and pioneered completely unexplored territory in mass media could not have been more exalted…[]

Lee won Best Director  at the Academy Awards, BAFTAs and Gold Globes for Brokeback Mountain.

Lust, Caution  takes place in Japanese occupied 1938 Hong Kong and 1940s Shanghai. A group of Chinese university students plot to assassinate a government official. The film was called tense, sensual and beautifully-shot. The film did well in Hong Kong and China, but because of  its adult content it earned  an NC-17 rating in the US and didn’t do well in this market.

2009’s Comedy/Drama Taking Woodstock offers a  groovy look on how the world’s most famous music concert came to be. The Chicago Time’s Michael Phillips called it “A mosaic…drifting in and out of focus — stitching the story of how the peace-and-music bash fell together.”

His latest film, Life of Pi is due out next month. Life of Pi is based on the novel by Yann Martel and is about a 16-year-old survivor of a ship wreck. He finds himself on a lifeboat with another unusual (and dangerous) castaway.

Thought of the Day 10.22.12 Sarah Bernhardt

Your words are my food, your breath my wine. You are everything to me.
–Sarah Bernhardt

English: Sarah Bernhardt, portrait by Nadar (d...

English: Sarah Bernhardt, portrait by Nadar (d. 1910) Português: Sarah Bernhardt, fotografia de Nadar (d. 1910) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Henriette-Rosine Bernard was born on this day in Paris, France in 1844. Today is the 168th anniversary of her birth.

The illegitimate daughter of a Julie Bernardt, a Dutch courtesan working in Paris. She was sent to Grandchamp, a Augustine convent school. She was greatly influenced by her time at the religious school and showed a desire to become a nun herself. Her first role was as the Angel Raphael in Tobais Regains His Sight, a show performed for the Archbishop of Paris when he visited the convent.

When one of her mother’s lovers, the Duke of Monry (Napoleon III’s half-brother) took an interest in young Sarah’s acting abilities, he arranged for her to go to the Paris Conservatoire at age 16 in 1862. She was forced to forget her dreams of becoming a Bride of Christ and took up a life on stage instead.

With the Duke as her patron she moved from the Conservatoire to France’s national theatre company, Comedie-Francaise where she starred in Iphigene. She left Comedie-Francaise after she slapped another actress and had a two year run at Theatre du gymnase-Dramatique.

English: Sarah Bernhardt as Joan of Arc holdin...

English: Sarah Bernhardt as Joan of Arc holding banner (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At about that time she had an affair with  Charles-Joseph Eugène Henri Georges Lamoral de Ligne (Belgium) and gave birth to her son Maurice in 1864. Although the prince proposed the royal family rejected the idea of his marrying an illegitimate actress. They forbade the union and Bernhardt was left to raise Maurine on her own. [See side bar below]

In 1866 she got a contract with Theatre de L’Odeon. During her six year run at the L’Odeon she had her first big success in the French version of King Lear as Cordelia and as the Queen in Ruy Blas by Victor Hugo. Perhaps her most memorable star making role was Zanetto in Le Passant (The Passerby), a role she played in a command performance for Napoleon III.

In 1870, in the midst of the Franco-German War, Bernhardt organized a military hospital in the Odéon, and by the late 1870s, when the war was over, she resumed acting and had reached the heights of her acting career, propelled in part by her quirky behavior both on and off the stage.” []

In 1899 she took over the Theatre de Nations and renamed it the Theatre Sarah-Bernhardt. In May she premiered a prose adaptation of Hamlet in which she played the great Dane.

At 61 the actress was in Rio de Janeiro starring in La Tosca.

She… injured herself in a leap off the parapet at the end of … the stage play that later became a Puccini opera, and she was in constant pain.  [Sarah Bernhardt’s leg, 02.02.09]

a decade later she take the pain no longer and she ordered doctors at Bordeaux University to amputate it above the knee. She was wheelchair bound for a while, but eventually she retuned to acting (with or with out the wooden leg which she found cumbersome.) Her last three movies were filmed after the leg was amputated.

English: Portrait of Sarah Bernhardt as Hamlet.

English: Portrait of Sarah Bernhardt as Hamlet. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With the advent of film Bernhardt became the first classical actress to lend her talents to the new medium. She filmed her version of Hamlet (Le Duel d’Hamlet — which she thought was abysmal); La Tosca; La Dame aux Camelias; Adrienne Lecouvreur; Elisabeth Reine d’Angleterre; Meres Francaise; Jeanne Dore and La Voyante.

She’s alleged to have had over 1,000 lovers. When she was 15 she bought a rosewood coffin. She some times slept in it — allegedly it helped her prepare for her dramatic roles. The coffin was lined with letters from her lovers.

Bernhardt died of kidney failure in 1923.

Side Bar — The Importance of Being Sarah:
[Prince Henri was not completely out of the picture. When Maurice was about to be married Henri offered to “officially recognize him and offered him his name and a substantial fortune.” [] Maruice refused saying his mother had sacrificed so much to raise him that he would remain a Bernhardt. Later when the two were traveling by train Henri was frustrated at having to wait in a long line. He went to the man in charge and demanded to be let in front saying “I am the Prince de Ligne” The man had never heard of him and told him to take his place in the back. So Maurice came forward and said he was the son of Sarah Bernhardt. They were immediately brought through. [ibid]

Alphonse Mucha’s poster for Bernhardt in as Gismonda [Image courtesy: Art Dish]
Mucha’s poster for Bernhardt’s Hamlet [Image Courtesy: Art Renewal]

Thought of the Day 10.21.12 Richard the Third

Blog Note: Today is NOT Richard the Third’s Birthday, that’s Oct 3 1452.


Richard III Royal Collection

Richard III Royal Collection (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today I’m thinking about Richard the Third of England.

We just saw the terrific Moveable Shakespeare production of Richard III at Chesapeake Shakespeare Company in the ruins of the Patapsco Female Institute in Ellicott City Maryland.

Director Ian Gallanar chose to pick the characters up from the 15th century and time warp them  to something resembling War War One. Clever, especially considering the Patapsco Female Institute was used as a war hospital during the Great War. In his director’s notes he says:

“The production really uses the visual palate and the historic technology of the World War One era as a way to clarify the relationships of the characters….[The audience] might also recognize the futility and wastefulness of a war that, much like the English “Wars of the Roses,” seemed more about resolving who would inherit power rather than who ought to inherit power.” [Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, Richard III: Program Notes]

So on a cold October night we got to see one of Shakespeare’s bloodiest plays in and around the shell of a burned out 19th Century building that some people claim is haunted. The occasional gas-masked actors quietly playing cards in a dimly lit corner or typing away orders on an antique typewriter upped the creep factor. As did the lighting effects, the period music and wonderful costumes.

Vince Eisenson as Richard III. Photo by Teresa Castracane. [Image courtesy: Chesapeake Shakespeare Company]

This version of Richard really worked. I really liked the “Moveable” aspect too. It added to the length of the play (instead of quick scene changes the audience literally did a scene change by moving to a new part of the building or grounds, and that took a while.) My only problem was that there was a scene or two where I couldn’t see the action because I had the bad luck of standing behind some one tall.)  Still, I liked that we kept moving through the building, and “discovering” new rooms. It really put the audience DEAD center into the action of the play (and moving about  kept us warm.)

Richard III runs for one more weekend at Chesapeake Shakespeare. So if you are local to Maryland jump on their website and grab some tickets before they sell out.


Scrap for a Shakespeare character card: Richar...

Scrap for a Shakespeare character card: Richard III., c. 1890; Printer: Siegmund Hildesheimer & Co. Victoria and Albert Museum, London, Museum number: S.63-2008, Link (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of course they didn’t have instant fact checkers in Shakespeare’s day, and history, as they say is written by the winners. So it comes as no surprise that the Richard the Third we met last night was a real piece of work. Shakespeare was writing for an Elizabethan audience. Elizabeth, a Tudor, was the granddaughter of the man who finally brought about Richard’s undoing on Bosworth Field in Leicestershire, Henry VII. It was in his interest to make Richard as loathsome as possible.

Henry VII’s claim to the thrown was weak at best. So he took…

“every opportunity of enhancing his own reputation at the expense of his predecessor. Richard’s actions and behaviour were the subject of attention and scrutiny and were presented, in the weeks and years after his death, as those of a wicked and unscrupulous tyrant.” [The Richard III Society]

While he was alive Richard was well thought of.

  • He was loyal to his brother Edward.
  • He was effective in his administration of the North.
  • He defended the country against the Scots.
  • He handled the premature death of Edward with out plunging the country into crisis.

Shakespeare wasn’t the first writer to take up the thread of anti- Richard-ism. (Yes, I just made that up.)

By the time the Elizabethan playwright William Shakespeare penned what was to become one of his most popular and frequently performed plays, The Tragedy of King Richard III, the works of the anonymous Croyland Chronicler, John Rous, Bernard André, Polydore Vergil, Sir Thomas More, Edward Hall, Richard Grafton and Raphael Holinshed had been written. [Ibid]

So, as Chesapeake Shakespeare Managing  Director and Richard III Dramaturge says in her note… The Bard’s “fictitious villainous Richard has triumphed over the historic Richard for centuries now.” [CSC Program]

Richard III earliest surviving portrait. [Image courtesy: Wikipedia]

In a timely twist of history archeologists digging up a parking lot in Leicester have found the remains of  the Greyfriars Church that might be those of Richard, the last King of England to die on the battlefield. They have found a skeleton in the choir area (Richard was buried in the choir of Friars Minor at Leicester), that had a skull injury caused by a bladed implement, an arrowhead was found between its vertebrae and upper back, and it had spinal abnormalities.

“the individual would have had severe scoliosis – which is a form of spinal curvature. This would have made his right shoulder appear visibly higher than the left shoulder.” [University of Leicester Press Release : The Leicester Greyfriars Dig]



Bonus Material:

Not sure how many of you watch HBO’s Boardwalk Empire… but I couldn’t stop thinking how much Michael Shannon  (who plays messed up Treasury agent turned iron salesman Nelson Van Alden) looks like our boy Richard.  I think they ought to do a new film version of Richard cubed with Shannon in the lead. He certainly has the intensity to play the role.

Thought of the Day 10.20.12 Viggo Mortensen

“There’s no excuse to be bored. Sad, yes. Angry, yes. Depressed, yes. Crazy, yes. But there’s no excuse for boredom, ever.”
Viggo Mortensen

Viggo Mortensen was born on this day in New York City, New York, USA  in 1958. He is 54 years old.

His family lived in Venezuela, Denmark and Argentina where his father managed farms and ranches.   He learned to speak fluent Danish, Spanish and English growing up. His parents divorced when he was 11 and he moved with his mother back to New York. After graduating St. Lawrence University he moved to Europe and lived in Spain, England and Denmark making his way as a truck driver and flower seller. Eventually he returned to the US ready to try his hand at acting.

Viggo Mortensen in a still from Witness [Image courtesy:]

He did some theatre then expanded to film. His footage in 1984’s Swing Shift and  Woody Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo ended up on the cutting room floor, but he had more luck in Peter Weir’s Witness. Mortensen played Moses Hochleitner, the younger brother to Alexander Godunov’s Daniel Hochleitner. He didn’t have a lot of lines in the Harrison Ford flick, but some how he stood out from the sea of blond-haired Amish men in blue shirts.

His next step was to Television where he was cast as Bragg on Search for Tomorrow [BRAGG, what a great soap opera name, right?]

In 1987 he played a crooked cop on Miami Vice. There was more theatre too, this time in LA’s Coast Playhouse’s production of Bent, for which he earned a Dramalogue Critics’ Award.

Movie still from G.I. Jane []

A splay of supporting roles in the 1990s saw him acting in some good movies (The Portrait of a Lady directed by Jane Campion) and some not so good movies (Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III)  Critics started to take notice when he starred opposite Demi Moore as brutal Master Chief John Urgayle in G.I. Jane (some critics said he stole the movie from Moore) and as the other man in A Walk on the Moon with Diane Lane. He played another ‘other’ man in A Perfect Murder, a reboot of Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder with Michael Douglas and Gwyneth Paltrow. He was Eddie Boone, a major league baseball player with a trifecta of additions in rehab with Sandra Bullock in 28 Days. And rounded out the decade by playing the devil in The Prophecy.

Movie poster from Lord of the Rings [Image courtesy: Beyond]

2001 saw the release of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings, the first in Peter Jackson’s epic Tolkien cycle. With his role as the heroic Aragorn “Mortensen was established as a major leading man among Hollywood’s A-list ranks.” [Viggo Mortensen — Biography, Movies. The Two Towers followed in 2002 and The Return of the King premiered in 2003. He brought quiet strength, “commanding good looks”[ibid] and a rye sense of humor to Aragorn. He embraced the role whole heartedly. He did all his own stunts in the movies (and took quiet a few knocks in the process). He wore his sword and costume for days on end so they would have an authentic lived in look. And he became so attached to his equine co-stars, Uraeus and Kenny, that he purchased the horses after the film wrapped and took them home.

After his success in the Lord of the Rings Mortensen managed to keep himself centered…

Exceedingly humble about success and uncharacteristically un-Hollywood, Mortensen managed to stay somewhat reclusive and focused on other interests outside of acting, namely painting and writing poetry, despite becoming one of the most recognizable stars in the world. [Viggo Mortensen — Biography, Movies. ]

He used some of his earnings from playing Aragorn to start Perceval Press publishing house in Santa Monica, California.

Perceval Press is a small, independent publisher specializing in art, critical writing, and poetry. The intention of the press is to publish texts, images, and recordings that otherwise might not be presented. [Percival Press]

Mortensen’s own artistic, musical and written works are available through Perceval Press. He writes poetry, essays, and companion pieces for his paintings and photographic work in English, Spanish and Danish. Musically he has completed 16 albums, working almost exclusively with the guitarist Buckethead.

Back on the silver screen was Hidalgo in 2007.  It is the true story of American Frank T. Hopkins who participation in a 3,000-mile race across the Najd desert called the “Ocean of Fire”.

He gave “his most compelling and carefully drawn performance to date” [ibid] as an everyday man who’s violent past catches up to him in A History of Violence a film directed by David Cronenberg. He worked with Cronenberg again in 2007 for Eastern Promises, where he played a Russian gangster. He was nominated for an Academy Award for his role in the film.

In 2008 he was Ed Harris’ sidekick in the Western Appaloosa. He also starred in Good which takes place in the 1930s. Mortensen is a professor struggling to decide if he should join the Nazi party.

Movie still from The Road. [Image courtesy:]

The grim Cormac McCarthy novel was the basis for Mortensen’s next movie, The Road. It is a post-apocalyptic story of a father and son trying to survive in a bleak wasteland.

Once again teaming up with Cronenberg, Mortensen plays Dr. Sigmund Freud in his the 2011 film,  A Dangerous Method.

Coming up Mortensen has several film ready for release including: On The Road and Everybody Has a Plan; and in 2013 The Faces of January and The Last Voyage of Demeter.

Publicity shot. [Image courtesy: TheReelist]

Found this on Facebook and had to share.


Thought of the Day 10.19.12 Empress Myeongseong

Queen Min was born on this day in Yeoju County, in the province of Gyeonggi Province, Korea in 1851. Today is the 161st anniversary of her birth.

Her name was not recorded at her birth. Neither was the name of her mother. Her father’s name was Min Chi-rok, and he was a member of the wealthy and influential Min family.

She was orphaned by the time she was 8-years old, which was actually something of a benefit to her in terms of marriage as when the future Emperor Gojong went looking for a wife (when he was 15-years old) the preference was for a girl without many relatives who would be seeking favor at court and be inclined toward corruption. [Mad Monarchist.]

She was smart, pretty, from a good family, healthy, appropriately educated (for a woman), and (most likely) fertile. So, at 16, after a lengthy vetting period she was married to 15-year-old King Gojong and became Queen Min.

Typically, queen consorts concerned themselves with setting fashions for the noble women of the realm, hosting tea parties, and gossiping. Queen Min, however, had no interest in these pastimes. Instead, she read widely on history, science, politics, philosophy, and religion, giving herself the kind of education ordinarily reserved for men. [Asian History/]

Her father-in-law, Taewongun, the regent and puppet master over the young king, was having none of it. He moved to weaken her influence on the king by giving him a royal consort. While Queen Min had difficulty in conceiving, the consort soon produced a little boy. Taewongun said Queen Min was infertile, but the Queen had a baby of her own with in the year, again a boy. Sadly the little boy died after just four days. She claimed her father-in-law had poisoned the baby with ginseng, and vowed revenge.

She went to the council. Her husband was now 22, surely he was old enough to run the country on his own. He no longer needed a regent. The counsel agreed and Taewongun was sent away to his property in the country. (But it would not be the last Queen Min heard from him.)

Traditionally Korea had been a tributary of Qing China, but when King Gojong took the throne Japan came seeking trade access and demanding tribute. Queen Lin encouraged the King to show strength and to send them packing. But in 1874 Japan came calling again. Although Queen Min counseled her husband to stand firm again and expel the dignitaries, he signed a trade treaty. When Japan sent a gunship, the Unyo, into restricted waters to ‘survey sea routes’ the Koreans fired on it. The ship retreated. But Japan retaliated when they…

sent a fleet of six naval vessels into Korean waters. Under the threat of force, Gojong once again folded rather than fighting back; Queen Min was unable to prevent this capitulation. The king’s representatives signed the Ganghwa Treaty. [Asian History/]

According to the Ganghwa Treaty:

  • Japan had free access to some Korean ports and all Korean waters,
  • Japan gained special trading status
  • Japanese accused of crimes in Korea could only be tried under Japanese law – they were immune to local laws.

Koreans gained absolutely nothing from this treaty, which signaled the beginning of the end of Korean independence. Despite Queen Min’s best efforts, the Japanese would dominate Korea until 1945. [ibid]

Hwangwonsam: everyday clothes for queen/empress

Hwangwonsam: everyday clothes for queen/empress (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Queen commissioned fact finding missions to study Japanese westernization. It seemed that the Japanese had leap-frogged over Korea in their ability to Westernize. Where Seoul and Busan had been major commerce centers, they were now overshadowed by Tokyo and Osaka.  Korea needed to change with the times. The country and the military needed to modernize.

Queen Min knew Korea would have to tread carefully and she favored a plan by which Korea would continue to deal with Japan in order to modernize and, once that was sufficiently completed, would then ally with the United States or some other or more western powers to drive the Japanese influence out of Korea.  [Mad Monarchist.]

She reorganized the government, creating twelve new bureaus to handle foreign relations, commerce and update the military. In general she was determined to bring Korea into a more modern, technological age.

[Image courtesy: Wikipedia]

Needless to say all that modernization didn’t make the traditionalist very happy. In 1882 there was a rebellion seeking to over throw Queen Min and King Gojong and replace them with Gojong’s third brother. The Imo Incident was backed by their old nemesis (and Gojong’s father) Taewongun. “The uprising temporarily ousted Gojong and Min from the palace, returning the Taewongun to power.” [ibid] With the help of 4,500 Chinese soldiers the rebellion was foiled and the King and Queen were restored to power. The Japanese took advantage of the incident to strengthen their growing hold on the peninsula. They…

strong-armed Gojong into signing the Japan-Korea Treaty of 1882. Korea agreed to pay restitution for the Japanese lives and property lost in the Imo Incident, and also to allow Japanese troops into Seoul so that they could guard the Japanese Embassy. [Asian History/]

The Queen countered by granting China access to ports that the Japanese were not privy to.  She also asked that Chinese and German officers to head up improvements in the army.

English: Purportedly a photo of Queen Min of K...

English: Purportedly a photo of Queen Min of Korea, from an old Japanese travel book. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1894 The Tonghak Rebellion — a week-long popular rebellion against taxes and foreign influence ended with China sending 2,500 troops (invited) and Japan sending 4,500 troops (uninvited) to help quell the insurrection. The peasants quickly went home. The troops remained.

On July 23, Japanese troops marched in to Seoul and captured King Gojong and Queen Min. On August 1, China and Japan declared war on one another, fighting for control of Korea. [ibid]

The Sino-Japanese War ensued. Although China sent 390,000 more troops to Korea, the better prepared and more modern Japanese Meiji military easily won. China withdrew leaving Korea and other Asian  allies to deal with the much stronger Japanese.

As many as 100,000 of Korea’s peasants had risen up late in 1894 to attack the Japanese as well, but they were slaughtered. Internationally, Korea was no longer a vassal state of the failing Qing; its ancient enemy, Japan, was now fully in charge. Queen Min was devastated. [ibid]

The queen did not give up she sent emissaries to Russia, hoping they would come to Korea’s aid.

The new caretaker government knew what she was up to. They aligned themselves with Taewongun  (her father-in-law). He had no love for the Japanese, but he saw this as a way to get rid of Queen Lin once and for all and he took it.

In 1895 Operation Fox Hunt was put into place.  A mixed group of Japanese and Korean assassins attacked Gyeongbokgung Palace. They found the King, but did not hurt him. They came upon the Queen’s sleeping quarters and dragged her out into the courtyard along with four of her attendants.

They brutally killed Queen Min, displayed her body to foreigners so there could be no doubt that she was dead, then took her outside the palace walls and burned her.

For two years Taewongun was in charge, but he lacked the desired “commitment…for modernizing Korea.” [ibid] and the Japanese ousted him.

Gojong took the throne back (with Russian support). He…

declared himself emperor of Korea. He also ordered a careful search of the woods where his queen’s body had been burned, which turned up a single finger bone. Emperor Gojong organized an elaborate funeral for this relic of his wife… The queen consort also received the posthumous title of Empress Myeongseong. [ibid]

The march of the National Funeral of the decea...

The power-struggle over the Korean peninsula continued with Russia and Japan  fighting the Russo-Japanese War in 1904-1905. Japan won again. In 1910 they formally annexed Korea. The country did not regain independence until after World War II.

Empress Myeongseong Shrine

Empress Myeongseong Shrine (Photo credit: jonwick04)

Thought of the Day John Lennon

PROGRAMMING NOTE: Switching up the formula a little today as it is NOT John Lennon’s Birthday — that was October 9th — but I was away that day, so I thought I’d retroactively give John the birthday nod.

“If someone thinks that love and peace is a cliché that must have been left behind in the Sixties, that’s his problem. Love and peace are eternal.”
— John Lennon

John Winston Lennon was born on October 9th, 1940 in Liverpool, England. He would be 72 years old this year.

John was born during World War II, indeed he was born during an air raid, to Julia and Alfred Lennon. His father worked as a merchant seaman and was often away from home. By the time John was four-years-old his parents were divorced and he went to live with his Aunt Mimi Smith. Although Alfred was largely out of the picture, Julia remained close, she visited John regularly.

She taught John how to play the banjo and the piano and purchased his first guitar. []

Julia Lennon died when John was 18, she was stuck by a car.

He did not do well in school, and preferred to be the class clown rather than study. He did love art and music though. John drew unique (almost grotesque) line drawings that quickly and simply captured the image.

John started a ‘skiffle band’ (a band that used the instruments they had at hand) called the Quarry Men when he was 16. The Quarry Men take their name from John’s high school, Quarry Bank High School in Liverpool. The next year he asked Paul McCartney to join the group.  George Harrison and Lennon’s art school mate Stu Sutcliffe also joined the band and they later added Pete Best on drums.

John at the Cavern Club [Image courtesy: Join the Cavern Club]

The group changed their name to the Beatles and played clubs in Hamburg, Germany and the Cavern Club in Liverpool. Brian Epstein came on board in 1961 as manager, and they got a recording contract with EMI records.

1962 saw huge changes for both Lennon and  the group.  In April of 1962 Sutcliffe died tragically of a brain aneurysm. In August John married Cynthia Powell, the couple had a son, Julian in April the next year. The band replaced drummer Pete Best with Ringo Starr. The realigned group recorded  at EMI with George Martin as their producer, and released Love Me Do in October. The single reached #17 on the British Charts. Please, Please Me the follow-up single, topped the charts. And the Beatles were off.

Beatlemania invaded the US in 1964. They appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show and played sold out concerts.

Still from Hard Day’s Night. [Image courtesy: Cinematical]

Back in the UK they made the movie A Hard Day’s Night.  The movie is a delightfully fun, pop romp of a mockumentary. It featured songs from the album of the same name, notably: A Hard Days Night, If I Fell, I’m Happy Just to Dance with You, Tell Me Why, Any Time At All and Can’t Buy Me Love. The popularity of the movie helped keep the album at #1 for 14 weeks on the Billboard chart. The budget was limited so it was shot in black and white, and everything was kept simple. Not so with their second film HELP! which still manages to be charming but not as charming as  Hard Day’s Night. It is overproduced and over done. Lennon said that the Beatles felt like extras in their own movie with HELP! and it shows.  Still the music was pretty awesome: Help!, You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away, You’re Going to Lose That Girl! Ticket to Ride, It’s Only Love, I’ve Just Seen a Face, and Yesterday. The Album held the top spot on Billboard for 9 weeks.

Musically the lads from Liverpool were in top form, releasing the breakthrough album, Rubber Soul in 1965. Their song writing had transformed from the harder R&B influenced Hold My Hand kind of song to lyrical, mature songs like Norwegian Wood, Nowhere Man, Michelle, Girl, In My Life, and If I Needed Someone. It was another #1 Billboard album (6 weeks).   [I’m guessing that if you are still reading this blog you are a Beatles fan and already have most of their albums, but if you don’t… I’d put Rubber Soul at the top of the list. For my money Rubber Soul and Revolver are two of the best albums every made.]

Rubber Soul [Image courtesy:]

Revolver [Image courtesy:]

Yesterday…and Today came out in 1966. Stand out songs include: Drive My Car, Nowhere Man, Yesterday, If I Needed Someone, We Can Work It Out and Day Tripper. The album reached #1 for 5 weeks. Revolver also came out in 1966.  Taxman, Eleanor Rigby, Here, There and Everywhere, Yellow Submarine, Good Day Sunshine, And Your Bird Can Sing, and Got to Get You Into My Life are some of the hits off the album, which spent 6 weeks at the #1 spot on Billboard’s chart. By 1966 the strain of constant touring, recording, and the hounding fans was weighing on the band. Lennon got in trouble for his “We’re more popular than Jesus now” remark. They played their last concert in Candlestick Park stadium, San Francisco in August.

The following year the Beatles put out their eighth LP, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. An eclectic mix of pop, rock n roll, and Indian influenced tracks.  It won Album of the Year and was #1 on the Billboard charts for a whopping 15 weeks. Hits from the album include: With a Little Help from My Friends, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, Getting Better, –the amazing — A Day in the Life, and of course, Lovely Rita.  But as good as Pepper was, and it was very good, it was also over produced. All those horns and whistles and animal sounds didn’t quite get in the way enough to ruin the songs, but were they really necessary? Listening back on them now… well, I prefer a simpler production. [It worked somehow in A Day in the Life; not so much in Lovely Rita, but still, the later has such a great title.]

Speaking of over produced…there’s Magical Mystery Tour — a movie that makes absolutely no sense.  The LP had some lovely songs though. And even if it was becoming painfully clear that Lennon was writing  the “Lennon” songs– which were leaning toward sarcasm — and McCartney was writing the “McCarntney” songs — which were tending to  get more nostalgic and saccharine — both came up with some good ones here, like: The Fool on the Hill, Strawberry Fields Forever, Penny Lane, and All You Need Is Love.

1968 brought the animated (and equally bizarre) film Yellow Submarine. In November they release a new album called The Beatles aka The White Album. It was at the top of the charts for 9 weeks.   This double album seems almost schizophrenic with some great songs like the hard rock and roll Back in the USSR, Why Don’t We Do It in the Road? Helter Skelter, and  Revolution; others that are lovely and lyrical; While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Blackbird, Julia, Long, Long, Long, Good Night; And others that I’m not going to waste my time talking about.

On the personal side John divorced Cynthia Lennon in November of 1968. He and Yoko Ono, who he had been seeing since 1966, and living with since the summer of ’68, put out a collaborative album Two Virgins.  The album showed the couple nude on the cover and was banned in most record stores. On March 20, 1969 John and Yoko married in Gibraltar.

The following week, the two master media manipulators used their celebrity for good, hosting a honeymoon “bed-in” for peace in room 902, the presidential suite of the Amsterdam Hilton. The… pajama-clad newlyweds spoke out about world peace. It was the honeymoon as performance art, interlaced with a protest against the Vietnam War. []

They repeated the “performance” in Montreal  the following week and with a bedroom full of musicians, artist, writers and other 1960’s counter-culture dignitaries, they recorded  Give Peace a Chance.

Abbey Road [Image courtesy:]

Abbey Road was released  in 1969. It is actually the last album the Beatles recorded, but it was released before Let It Be.
Notable songs include: Come Together, Something, Here Comes the Sun, and I Want You. Abbey Road stayed at #1 for 11 weeks.

Recorded largely in January in 1969,  Let it Be wasn’t released until 1970 and was #1 for 4 weeks. Lennon had already left the group (September of 1969.) A film of the same name came out the same year. The film was supposed to be a documentary that went behind the scenes to show the world’s most famous rock band making an album. Instead it showed the world’s most famous rock band dissolving.  The film culminated in a rooftop concert on January 30th. Songs from the album include: Don’t Let Me Down, Get Back, Two of Us, Let It Be, and The Long and Winding Road.

After the Beatles John released Plastic Ono Band.

The raw, confessional nature of Plastic Ono Band reflected the primal-scream therapy that Lennon and Ono had been undergoing with psychologist Arthur Janov. He dealt with such fundamental issues as “God” and “Mother” and the class system (“Working Class Hero”) on an album as full of naked candor as any in rock has ever been. [Rock & Roll Hall of Fame]

1971 brought Imagine. Rolling Stone Magazine called the title track the third all-time best song ever written.

English: John Lennon and Yoko Ono

English: John Lennon and Yoko Ono (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

John and Yoko followed Imagine with an anti-war release Happy Xmas (War is Over). The Nixon administration was not amused.  It decided to begin deportation proceeding against Lennon.  The stress took its toll on Lennon’s marriage with Ono and the two separated. For 18 months he lived in Los Angeles with another woman, May Pang. It is a period he calls his “Lost weekend” of drinking a partying. He fished Mind Games, and recorded Walls and Bridges. Whatever Gets You Thru the Night, a single off the later album became a number one hit. He co-wrote Fame with David Bowie.

He and Ono were reunited in 1975 shortly before the release of Rock n Roll. The couple celebrated the birth of their son Sean in October of 1975. And, after releasing Shaved Fish, John became a stay at home dad for five years.

In 1980 he came out of retirement and released Double Fantasy with the single Just Like Starting Over.

On December 8, 1980 the music died. As Lennon and Ono were returning home from recording tracks for the following up album,  Milk and Honey  he was assassinated in front of his New York apartment building, the Dakota.

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