This week in Literature and Arts

May 1, 1941: Amidst a war with newspaper emperor William Randolph Hearst, RKO releases Citizen Kane. News on the March.

Happy birthday to Joseph Heller, born in Coney Island, NY, May 1, 1923. I had the opportunity to spend a few days with him at the University of South Carolina’s F. Scott Fitzgerald Centennial Celebration, and Heller was a good guy. Great sense of humor.

May 2, 1974: On a bright but bitter cold day, JAWS begins filming with Roy Scheider and Jonathan Filley walking on South Beach discussing Chrissy’s disappearance and supposed drowning before hearing Hendricks’s whistle.

Birthday remembrances of the lovely and oh so scandalous Mary Astor, actress, author, and bedroom Olympian, born—hang onto your hats—Lucille Vasconcellos Langhanke—in Quincy, IL, May 3, 1906.

Astor started in silents as a teen but emigrated to theater when talkies hit because the studios deemed her voice masculine. Apparently, the rest of her more than made up for it, because she was back on screen by 1930. Ultimately, Astor appeared in more than 100 films, snagging a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for 1941’s The Great Lie. Her immortality, however, lies her ace performance as femme fatale Brigid O’Shaughnessy in John Huston’s version of The Maltese Falcon.

Mary possessed a writer’s soul, producing five novels and a best-selling autobiography, but her diary earned the most notoriety. When her second husband (she had four) discovered it, he filed for divorce and sole custody of their child; Astor’s pages detailed numerous affairs with leading men and other Hollywood players—seems she dropped her drawers for everybody! The scandal had little effect on her box office, she continued to land both film, TV, and stage roles until capping her career with a small role in 1964’s Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte.

Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man debuted 15 years ago today (May 3, 2002). More than 60 superhero films have been produced in the 15 ensuing years (including a bad Spidey reboot), so this film seems almost forgotten, a shame because Raimi nailed it.

Little, almost disposable details can make/break a film. This shot lasts only a few seconds, but how many geeks raised on Ditko and Romita nearly soiled themselves seeing it. One of many such moments (the suit in the garbage can!!!) throughout his Spidey series.

Good job, Sam.

May 4, 1939:

May 5, 1926: Sinclair Lewis refuses the Pulitzer Prize for his novel, Arrowsmith, citing what he believed was the destructive influence of awards on writers. In a letter to the Pulitzer Committee, Lewis stated in part that:

“Between the Pulitzer Prizes, the American Academy of Arts and Letters and its training-school, the National Institute of Arts and Letters, amateur boards of censorship, and the inquisition of earnest literary ladies, every compulsion is put upon writers to become safe, polite, obedient, and sterile. In protest, I declined election to the National Institute of Arts and Letters some years ago, and now I must decline the Pulitzer Prize.

I invite other writers to consider the fact that by accepting the prizes and approval of these vague institutions we are admitting their authority, publicly confirming them as the final judges of literary excellence, and I inquire whether any prize is worth that subservience.”

I don’t know if he was right or not, but that took guts.

May 6, 1915: George Orson Welles is born in Kenosha, Wisconsin. A bit of a rough childhood, but he did okay for himself.

Michael Rogers ( 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.