This week in Literature and Arts

Birthday greetings to Sir Alec Guinness, born in London’s Paddington vicinity, April 2, 1914. I like him best in the David Lean films, and he brought a touch of class as Kenobi, and, of course, the man was born to play Smiley.

Guinness wrote a few memoirs, very charming and worth breezing through.


April 3, 1978: At the 50th Academy Awards, Annie Hall beats Star Wars for Best Picture. Woody Allan also bested George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg (Close Encounters of the Third Kind) for Best Director. Jason Robards additionally was selected over Alec Guinness in the Best Supporting Actor category (no disrespect to Robards, a tremendous actor, who truly was great as Dashiell Hammett in Julia).

Star Wars did take home prizes for Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing (a tie with Close Encounters), Best Art Direction, Best Film Editing, Best Visual Effects, and John Williams beat himself to snag another Best Original Score Oscar (he was nominated for SW and CE3K).

Also no disrespect to Woody Allan, I’ve enjoyed many of his films throughout his prolific career, but does anyone remember anything about Annie Hall except for Diane Keaton launching a ridiculous fashion trend where women dressed up like men from 1940s B movies?

My take on the whole mess.


April 3, 1978: At the 50th Academy Awards, Richard Dreyfuss wins the Best Actor prize for The Goodbye Girl.

Attaboy!


April 3, 1920: F. Scott Fitzgerald marries Zelda Sayre at Manhattan’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Sayre first had refused Scott’s proposal because of his financial status, but the quick success of his first novel, This Side of Paradise, altered her perspective.

Probably the best and worst thing to happen to both of them.


Birthday greetings to Washington Irving, born April 3, 1783, in New York City. As that was the week the American Revolution ended, his merchant parents named him after General George.

He’s another example of a boy who was a terrible student who became a great writer in many genres and one of American lit’s founding fathers.


April 4, 1964: The Beatles set a new precedent, becoming the first band to hold the top five positions in singles sales.


Happy birthday to Anthony Perkins, born in New York City April 4, 1932. Allegedly, he is a descendant of Mayflower pilgrims, and Perkins won an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for co-writing with Stephen Sondheim the screenplay for Herbert Ross’s 1973 film The Last of Sheila.

I always found this guy cold and off-putting onscreen, but all those things that bothered me were the perfect elements for his masterful and truly chilling performance as Psycho’s Norman Bates. When he says, “We all go a little mad sometimes,” you believe it.


Happy 91st birthday to actor/writer/producer/director and inventor of the zombie genre Roger Corman, born in Detroit April 5, 1926. Roger attended both Stanford and Oxford and worked his way up from 20th Century Fox’s mailroom to a prolific filmmaker.

Besides working with greats like Rathbone, Karloff, and Lorre, at the end of their careers when no one else would touch them, Roger gave Scorsese, Coppola, Cameron, Nicholson, and others a break when they were fledglings.

This guy should get the AFI Award, not the assholes they keep giving it to (Steve Martin, come on!).

Have a great one, Roger!


Let the day not pass without wishing a happy 100th birthday to Robert Bloch, born in Chicago April 5, 1917.

No one less than Lovecraft himself mentored Bloch. Certainly birds of a feather.


Alright, Star Wars geeks, join me in wishing a happy 80th birthday (YIKES!) to Billy Dee Williams! Most folks of a certain age (ahem) first saw Billy as Gale Sayers in Brian’s Song, an ABC Movie of the Week airing November 30, 1971.

It’s hard to tell whether Billy is better known for being Lando Calrissian in Star Wars or those cheesy 1980s Colt 45 malt liquor commercials. Personally, my favorite of his work is Nighthawks with Stallone and Rutger Hauer.

Have a great birthday, Billy!


April 6, 1963: The Kingsmen record “Louie Louie.” The most memorable facet of this mediocre event is despite the lyrics being completely undecipherable the record became a substantial hit. The song was written by Richard Berry, who previously had recorded it himself.

Jack Ely, the Kingsmen’s vocalist on the song, slurs the words in an almost drunken haze so that the only recognizable lyrics are “Louie Louie,” “Woa baby, really gotta go…really gotta go now,” the rest forget it. A myth began growing that instead of singing the written words, Ely had substituted sexually oriented lyrics and purposely garbled them so that the song would be cleared for radio.

To save America’s youth from depravity (it didn’t work), the FBI launched an investigation into the recording (thanks for wasting our tax dollars on bullshit, Mr. Hoover! By the way, your slip is showing, sweetheart.) The FBI soon dropped the inquisition, however, because despite all its resources and capabilities, the feds couldn’t figure out what the fuck Jack Ely was saying either.


Happy 78th birthday to Francis Ford Coppola, born in Detroit, April 7, 1939 (his family moved to Woodside, Queens, when he was small). Coppola’s rapid success as a screenwriter (he won an Oscar for co-writing Patton in 1970 and another for adopting The Godfather in ’72) and director blazed the path for other film school grads to get work. In particular, his championing George Lucas lead to American Graffiti and, ultimately, you know what.

One job lead to another and another and a lot of talented young filmmakers and actors who might not have gotten anywhere with the old studio bosses suddenly were working (Coppola himself grappled with casting Brando [granted, he was known to be difficult on set] as Vito Corleone; studio execs wanted Ernest Borgnine or—try not to crap yourself—Danny Thomas!!! Yes, Danny fucking Thomas as the Godfather! Studio managers seemingly always were assholes, it’s nothing new.

Salute, Francis. Happy birthday, man. Thanks for going to the mattresses over Brando. Danny Thomas, Jesus!


April 7, 1933: After premiering at Radio City Music Hall March 2, King Kong opens nationwide. Beautiful poster for the French release.


Michael Rogers (mermsr@optimum.net) 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.

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