This Week in Literature and Arts [February 15—February 21]

February 15, 1914: Kevin McCarthy is born in Seattle, WA. So many big and small screen appearances, but, of course, he’ll always be Dr. Miles Bennell in Don Siegel’s 1956 adaptation of Jack Finney’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers (terrific book, too). Met him at ChillerCon ages ago, pretty nice guy. And remember to eat your vegetables before you become one!

Happy 50th birthday to Alex Borstein, born outside Chicago, February 15, 1971. She’s done tons of TV work in a variety of series and currently is knocking them dead as Susie Myerson on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. For 20 years Alex also has voiced Lois Griffin and others on Family Guy. Busy lady, funny, too!

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February 16, 1964: The Beatles make their second Ed Sullivan Show appearance in a live broadcast from Miami’s Deauville Hotel. The show was headlined by the lovely Mitzi Gaynor with Allen & Rossi and Myron Cohen providing comedy. The lads performed “She Loves You,” “This Boy,” “All My Lovin’, “I Saw Her Standing There,” “From Me to You,” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”

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“Out of the stirring glory of Kipling’s India they roar…” February 17, 1939: RKO releases director George Stevens’s Gunga Din. Cary Grant originally was assigned the role of Ballantine, the romantic interest, while Douglas Fairbanks Jr. was cast as the adventure-seeking Cutter, a role greatly resembling those played by his dad. Grant wanted to infuse more comedy in his career, so Stevens flipped the two actors’ parts. Nonetheless, Fairbanks said that of the many films he did, Gunga Din was the masterpiece. Truly. Still among the greatest action films. Pure fun.

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February 17, 1959: Allied Artists Pictures releases William Castle’s House on Haunted Hill. Vincent Price and a cadre of worthy character actors chewing on, frankly, not-the-best dialog still make it a very fun watch. It’s purely a “B” cheese fest with no pretensions, but, nonetheless, the film possesses one of the genuine crap-your-pants moments in all of horror. It’s a ten-cent effect, just some hag with a kisser full of Bisquick (actually, it’s singer Leona Anderson), but it truly scares the bejesus out of you! Well done!

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February 17, 1975: Lennon releases Rock ‘n’ Roll, a cover album of the 1950s songs that lured him into music as a teen, and it’s goodbye, Johnny! The album’s jacket sports a photo of 20-something greaser Lennon leaning in a doorway in Hamburg, Germany, when the band was playing at the Top Ten Club. The ghostly figures on the sidewalk are Paul, George, and Stu Sutcliffe, who was on the verge of leaving the group to pursue his art studies. He would be dead within weeks from a brain hemorrhage. Rock ‘n’ Roll was Lennon’s last album release for five years.

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February 18, 1885: Publisher Chatto & Windus/Charles L. Webster and Company releases Mart Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in the United States after the book debuted in England the previous year.

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February 18, 1919: Jack Palance is born Volodymyr Palahniuk in Hazelton, PA. He briefly boxed professionally before enlisting in the Army Air Corps during World War II. Jack later understudied for Brando in Streetcar and eventually took over the Kowalski role. So good in many films, but his turn as hired killer Jack Wilson in Shane is my favorite. The big smile on his face when he murders Elisha Cook is priceless.

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February 18, 1923: Allan Melvin is born in Kansas City, MO. You’ll immediately recognize his face from countless TV shows appearances in everything from The Phil Silvers Show to All in the Family and The Brady Bunch (he was in The Andy Griffith Show roughly ten times, each episode as a different character!). Allen also was a prolific voice actor in commercials and cartoons, voicing Magilla Gorilla and other popular characters. Remarkably, he appeared only in one film (With Six You Get Eggroll).

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Happy birthday to Yoko Ono, born February 18, 1933 in Tokyo. Yoko, alas, has been ailing for years and is homebound now. I wish her well.

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February 18, 1938: RKO releases Howard Hawks’s screwball comedy, Bringing Up Baby, which promptly bombs! Seems impossible now, but Baby tanked at the box office! The film’s failure spurred RKO to just as promptly fire Hawks as director of Gunga Din.

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February 19, 1924:  Lee Marvin is born in New York City. He was named Lee after Robert E. Lee, a distant cousin (whodathunkit!). I think Marvin is the toughest hombre ever in movies, although he won his sole Oscar for the comedy Cat Ballou and even sang in the musical Paint Your Wagon. I’ll watch him in anything.

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Happy 66th birthday to Amy Tan, born February 19, 1952 in Oakland, CA. Always a good read.

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“Alright you primitive screwheads, listen up! See this! This is my BOOMSTICK!

February 19, 1993: Universal releases Sam Raimi’s Army of Darkness (or Evil Dead III if you prefer). Groovy!

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February 20, 1902:  Outdoor photography geek Ansel Adams is born in San Francisco.  I could never get the hang of his Zoning System of exposure, but it certainly worked for him. Amazing photos.

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February 20, 1926: Richard Matheson is born in Allendale, NJ, (but raised principally in Brooklyn). If science fiction, fantasy, and horror are your sustenance, then Matheson is the butter on your bread. Many of the top Twilight Zone episodes plus Í Am Legend, The (Incredible) Shrinking Man, Hell House, Duel, Somewhere in Time, The Night Stalker, etc., etc., etc., etc., all materialized from the seemingly bottomless depths of his mind. He was already getting published when he was a kid! Legend, indeed.

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February 20, 2005: In mid phone conversation with his wife, Hunter S. Thompson, severely depressed over his numerous physical and psychological ailments and the end of the football season—I’m not kidding—places the receiver down on the table, retrieves a .45 caliber handgun (yep, that’s the one below), and blows his brains all over the kitchen ceiling of his Woody Creek, CO, home.

Normally, I’d say who the hell would do a thing like that, but, yeah, him, that’s who. Thompson was 67.

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February 21, 1925: David Samuel Peckinpah is born  in Fresno, CA. The fiery Sam, arguably, was the last great director of the distinctly American genre, the Western. Besides writing and directing, Sam appeared as an actor in a handful of films, including a forgettable part in Invasion of the Body Snatchers (I think he was the seedpod with the nasty attitude!).

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Lastly, a Shakespeare Sunday 75th birthday salute to Anthony Daniels, born February 21, 1946 in Salisbury, Wiltshire, England. He’s another actor who initially wanted nothing to do with the role that, ultimately, defines his career: he begged off an interview with George Lucas, but his agent nudged him into meeting the fledgling director—thank the maker! Like Dave Prowse in the Vader suit, Daniels’s physicality, and, in this case, voice, gives C-3PO his personality beyond the written dialog. His gesticulations are restricted by the suit, but another actor still would have moved differently, and Daniels’s voice is the perfect personification of the prissy, scared-of-everything protocol droid. He’s the only actor in the Star Wars world to play his signature character in all the films and beyond.  Threepio is that galaxy’s cowardly lion certain that doom is imminent, but when it hits the fan he always comes through. Well done, Anthony. Happy birthday, man.

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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.