Happy 75th birthday to actor and playwright Wallace Shawn, born in NYC November 12, 1943. Back when I was working on 17th St. in Manhattan I used to see him regularly—he lived up the block. Sometimes I’d say “Hey, Wallace, how’s it going?” to hear that weird, lispy voice as he always responded.
He’s best known for the poison cups schtick in The Princess Bride and as the voice of Rex, Toy Story‘s scared-of-everything dinosaur, but another good one is his turn as Father Abruzzi in 1985’s Heaven Help Us with Donald Sutherland and John Heard. If you attended Catholic high school it’s a fun film.
November 13, 1968: The Beatles’ trippy animated film, Yellow Submarine debuts in U.S. theaters. It had premiered in London the previous July.
Birthday wishes to novelist, poet, traveler, and musician Robert Louis Stevenson, born in Edinburgh, Scotland, November 13, 1850. In addition to his literary endeavors, Stevenson was an accomplished musician, playing numerous instruments and composing more than 100 scores. Too brief a life; he died of a cerebral hemorrhage at 44 while living in Samoa.
If it’s been years since you read Stevenson, take a break from the cookie-cutter mysteries and bestseller-list crap and grab Kidnapped or Treasure Island. Read them aloud to your kids; you’ll have as much fun as they do.
November 14, 1851: After debuting in Britain several months earlier, Moby Dick is published in America. Critics mostly pan the book. Sales are poor. The novel’s financial failure in large part lead to Melville’s demise as an author, forcing him to find employment as an inspector of ship cargoes at South Street and other locales around New York harbor.
Since the novel’s 1920s renaissance, oceans of ink have been spilled on it’s true meaning, blah, blah, blah, and while the symbolism is there, books like it and Ulysses have been so over-dissected that their intrinsic beauty becomes a casualty. Instead of being read with great joy, people become afraid and avoid them. Silly. Moby Dick is beautiful. Read it.
Birthday remembrances of actor Brian Keith, born November 14, 1921 in Bayonne, NJ. Huge career in television, but I preferred his film work. He’s fine in Nevada Smith, but my favorite is his turn as Teddy Roosevelt in John Milius’s The Wind and the Lion.
Later in life, alas Brian fell into depression stemming from his daughter’s suicide as well as suffering from lung cancer and emphysema resulting in him taking his own life at 75.
November 15, 1956: Elvis makes his film debut in director Robert Webb’s romantic Civil War crime drama, Love Me Tender with Richard Egan and Debra Paget. Elvis harbored aspirations of becoming a serious actor à la Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, and his early films were dramas directed by the likes of Michael Curtiz and Don Siegel.
Presley’s greedy manager Col. Tom Parker reportedly nixed his client appearing in serious fare with big stars who would overshadow him, e.g., Elvis was a contender for the role of “Colorado” in Howard Hawks’s John Wayne/Dean Martin Western, Rio Bravo but Parker nixed it (Elvis clone Ricky Nelson snagged it).
Another serious factor dampened Presley’s screen ambitions: he stunk!
Hail to the King, baby!
Happy birthday to Burgess Meredith, born November 16, 1907 in Cleveland, OH. Prior to acting, he was a reporter for the Stamford Advocate in Connecticut and served as a captain in the U.S. Army Air Corp in World War II. Most probably remember him as Mickey in the Rocky films, but my favorite is his work in The Twilight Zone.
November 16, 2001: Harry Potter jumps off the page and onto the screen. The only one of these films I’ve seen all the way through. Hard to believe it’s been 17 years (and mountains of moolah ago!).
Happy birthday to New York’s own Martin Scorsese, born November 17, 1942 in Queens. His parents relocated to Manhattan’s Little Italy when Marty was a kid. I think everybody has a favorite Scorsese movie or two—or ten!
November 17, 1919: Sylvia Beach opens Shakespeare and Company at 12 Rue de l’Odéon in Paris. The combination bookstore and lending library was frequented by James Joyce, Ford Madox Ford, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, Andre Gide, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Janet Flanner, Kay Boyle, and other artistic Olympians.
Hemingway said that no one was ever nicer to him than Sylvia. When he accompanied US troops liberating Paris, he went first to her apartment to check if she was safe. Then he went to the Ritz bar and got shitfaced.
Michael Rogers (email@example.com) is a Jesse H. Neal Gold Award-winning freelance writer, editor, reviewer, and photographer. He is also former Media Editor and audiobook reviewer at Library Journal.