Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Living Martha Stewart - September 21, 2005


Imagine this: You look at your to-do list and see that you need to sew a button onto your favorite shirt, redecorate the bedroom, and cook Thanksgiving dinner for a family of 25. 

Oh, and did we mention that you have to do all these chores at the same time? 

Can't do it? Martha Stewart could -- and she'd even throw a festive centerpiece and a new line of sheets into the bargain. 

But even Martha needs some help. And tonight, the search for her protégé begins. As you might expect, the multimedia magnate has chosen only the best candidates. These go-getters include lawyers, cooking teachers, and public relations experts, and their challenges range from running a coffee bar and rewriting fairy tales to devising hotel concepts for "personal renewal." 

For all the success these high-powered entrepreneurs have had in their chosen fields, though, they'd better hope that the Doyenne of Domesticity doesn't give them the task of solving a decorating nightmare.

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Monday, September 20, 2021

It's All Showbiz, Kid - September 20, 2010

It's nearly Autumn! So won't you join The Spark as we fall into the week's events? (Get it?)


You'd think that something from the 17th century that's been confirmed by every reliable scientist for the past 400 years would be over and done with, wouldn't you? On this day in 1633, astronomer Galileo Galilei was tried by the Vatican for teaching that the Earth orbits the Sun. 

Well, even though the Catholic Church eventually apologized to Signor Galilei (albeit in 1992), there are still some folks beating the drums for geocentrism. "plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose," we guess.

Galileo's trial wasn’t the only event related to stirring things up on this day, though. In 1878,
Upton Sinclair was born. His muckraking and provocative style evidenced itself over nearly 100 books, the most notorious of which, The Jungle, exposed the horrors of the meat-packing industry, and led in great part to the 1906 passing of the Pure Food and Drug and Meat Inspection Acts.

In 1885,
Ferdinand "Jelly Roll" Morton was born. Morton was many things, including a pianist, a bandleader, and a composer, but is best known for his spurious claims to have invented jazz.

1947 saw the death of New York's mayor,
Fiorello La Guardia. The "Little Flower" was that rarest of animals nowadays, a progressive Republican who cleaned up the vast network of corruption in Big Apple politics. He wasn't a reformer 24/7, though, in that he was known to leave business matters at the drop of a hat to hop onto a passing fire truck, and in 1945, when a strike stopped newspapers from being printed, he read the comic section on the radio so readers could keep up with the action.

Cartoon director
Jay Ward would have turned 90 today. His off-kilter sense of humor leanded itself to such classic shows as The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, Hoppity Hooper, and George of the Jungle.

But let's not forget the ladies today. Legendary actress
Sophia Loren turns 76 today, and tomorrow is the 29th anniversary of Sandra Day O'Connor being approved unanimously approved by the U.S. Senate as the first female Supreme Court justice, and in 1973, Billie Jean King struck a blow for feminists everywhere when she beat Bobby Riggs in straight sets in "The Battle of the Sexes" tennis match at Houston’s Astrodome. Of course, the 30-year-old King had an age advantage over the 55-year-old Riggs, and the whole thing was little more than a massive publicity stunt, but it was still good theatre.

Speaking of theatre, in 1994, songwriter
Jule Styne died. Over his nearly 70-year career, he wrote more than 2,000 songs (of which the New York Times estimated that 200 were hits) and 29 musicals, some of which -- most notably Gypsy and Funny Girl -- are among the greatest achievement of the musical theatre. He was also nominated for nine Academy Awards, finally winning for "Three Coins in the Fountain" in 1953.

Not so notable, though. is
Dancing with the Stars, which begins its new season tonight, as does the new incarnation of Hawaii Five-O; though without Jack Lord -- and his hair -- we don't know if it'll be able to survive. (They are keeping the classic theme song, though.) Maybe the brainiacs participating in the 2010 Chess Olympiad in Khanty Mansi, Russia, will be able to figure that one out.


Tougher to figure out is the case of comedian
Milton Berle. In 1948, Berle was made the regular host of The Texaco Star Theater. Almost overnight, Berle became the biggest star on television, sparking the sale of millions of TV sets as Americans clamored to see what "Uncle Miltie" would do next. He was so popular, in fact, that NBC signed him to a lifetime contract -- that expired in 1978, 24 years before Berle's actual death.

Turning to sports, we see that today is both the 40th anniversary of the debut of
Monday Night Football as well as being Miniature Golf Day. It's also the 61st birthday of avid golfer and Chicago Cubs fan Bill Murray.

Lots of literary doings today. In 1866,
H.G. Wells was born. Wells is today best remembered for his science fiction novels like The War of the Worlds and The Invisible Man, but he was also a historian and social critic and commentator. Why movie producer Jerry Bruckheimer, who turns 65 today, has never made one of Wells's novels into a blockbuster film, we don't know. For that matter, we have to wonder why he's never made a film of one of Stephen King's books. After all, they share a birthday -- though King is two years younger.

We should be thankful, though that Bruckheimer never turned
Virginia O'Hanlon's letter to the New York Sun asking if there was indeed a Santa Claus (published on this day in 1897) into a mammoth summer movie -- though we suppose massive explosions don't really lend themselves to stories featuring eight-year-old Victorian girls. It's actually better fodder for an animated feature, perhaps one directed by Chuck Jones, born in 1912, and considered by many to be the greatest of all cartoon directors. His Duck Amuck, One Froggy Evening, and What's Opera, Doc? are usually considered three of the finest cartoons ever made.


For that matter, we have to wonder why there’s never been a movie version of the life of
Revolutionary War spy Nathan Hale. Seems like there’s enough adventure there to fill out a movie, but maybe the unhappy ending -- he was caught and hanged on this day in 1776 -- put the kibosh on those plans. Still, with such a killer final line ("I regret I have but one life to lose for my country"), you’d get an interesting ending. Perhaps it would have been an interesting subject for birthday boy Erich von Stroheim (1885), but given Stroheim's excesses (the first cut of his 1924 silent film Greed ran eight hours), perhaps that's not such a good idea.

Speaking of spies, we note in passing that, in 1964,
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. debuted on NBC (much to the delight of Mad Men's Sally Draper, we presume).

If only Hale had lived another seven years, he might have seen Russia establishing a
colony at Kodiak, Alaska in 1784 -- an event which would definitely have allowed the Alaskans who there were to see Russia from their houses. 

Such an event might have been fodder for the National Geographic Magazine, except it didn't begin publishing until more than a century later, in 1888. And if any of those Russian colonists had injured themselves, well, they just would have been out of luck, since Band-Aids weren’t invented until this day in 1921. (Need we mention that Band-Aid, like Kleenex, Xerox, Aspirin, Zipper, and even Heroin, is a trademarked name?)

Beginnings and endings today: The
Queen Mary began her last Atlantic crossing in 1967 on its way to Long Beach, CA, where it floats today as a hotel and tourist attraction. (The ship had made her maiden voyage on September 26, 1934, so we're pretty sure the date of the finale was intentional.)

Not quite as regal, but still a movie queen was
Marion Davies, who died on this day in 1961. The longtime companion/mistress of newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst, Davies was a huge star in the 1920s. A talented comedienne, Hearst forced Davies to play dramatic parts before she finally retired from the screen in 1937. Unfortunately for her, she was one of the models for Susan Alexander Kane in Orson Welles's Citizen Kane. The comparison is unfortunate because Davies, unlike Mrs. Kane, was actually talented, smart, and witty -- but history will forever associate them together.

In 2007,
Marcel Marceau died. Marceau was one of the world's great mimes, and while street mimes have given the art form a bad name, artists like Marceau were able to translate human emotions into wordless vignettes of joy, pain, love, and hate that anyone in any country could understand and empathize with.

If Jule Styne's nine Oscar nominations seem a lot, consider the case of
Harry Warren, who died in 1981. Over the course of his long career, Warren was nominated for 11 and won three. A list of his hits would be as long as your arm, from "Jeepers Creepers" and "Chattanooga Choo-Choo" (the first record to sell a million copies) to "We’re in the Money" and "42nd Street." For all his success, though, he was relatively unknown, even in his heyday.

As unknown as Warren was,
Irving Berlin, who died in 1989 at the age of 101 was as famous as anyone in America -- and possibly the most successful songwriter of all time. From 1911, when his first hit, "Alexander’s Ragtime Band" made him world famous, to 1961, when his last musical, "Mr. President" flopped, he wrote more than 1,500 songs, the very minimum mention of which would include "Easter Parade" "White Christmas," "There's No Business Like Show Business," and "God Bless America." Jerome Kern (no slouch at songwriting himself), said of him, "Irving Berlin has no place in American music -- he is American music."

Enough of the farewells, though. Tonight,
Hell's Kitchen returns, and we predict that chef Gordon Ramsay will swear, call someone a "donkey," and throw someone out of his kitchen in a fit of rage. If it gets too violent, we can be sure that the new police officers and ADAs of Law & Order: Los Angeles will be there to ensure justice is done. Ramsey's fits may seem the work of a madman, but we can be assures he’s (probably) sane, much like Joaquin Phoenix, who returns to David Letterman's show tonight to prove that his last bizarre appearance was merely a pose for his latest movie.

We're usually pretty good at linking things and finding tenuous connections between events, but we'll present these three to you and hope you can find a connection. Today is not only
Elephant Appreciation Day, World Car-Free Day, and Ice Cream Cone Day.


A slew of birthdays.
Baroness Emmuska Orczy was born in 1865. The baroness created something that is invaluable to many writers today. She invented the secret identity. In her novel The Scarlet Pimpernel, Sir Percy Blakeney is, to all the world, an ineffectual fop. But to the terrorized rulers of post-revolutionary France, he is an avenging angel, rescuing otherwise helpless aristocrats. All right, it's not exactly Clark Kent and Superman, but it is a trope that writers have happily used in the years since.

In 1865,
Mary Mallon, better known as "Typhoid Mary," was born. She was known for her uncanny ability to carry the typhoid bacteria without herself becoming ill. Unfortunately, she worked as a cook and housemaid and spread the disease, killing two and making dozens ill before being forced to spend the final 23 years of her life in isolation.

In more current birthdays, we have
Ray Charles (1930), quite possibly the hippest man who ever lived, and Mickey Rooney, who turns 90 today, and while probably not hip, is certainly hale and hearty, currently working on his 73rd year in the movie business. He was one of the top stars in the '30s and '40s, and has four movies out in 2010 and another scheduled for next year. He's the Energizer Bunny of actors. Speaking of ageless performers, Bruce Springsteen is 61 today and still performs with the energy of a man half his age.

Entertainment anniversaries: 1953 saw the premiere of
The Robe, the first movie made in CinemaScope (another trademarked name!), which was hardly the first widescreen format (1930’s The Big Trail was made in a 70mm process called "Grandeur," but was the first one that stuck. Movie studios, disturbed that people were staying at home and watching television, had to come up with a gimmick that audiences could get only in a theatre; hence, the big, big screen. 

Of course, if entertainment was going to be like The Jetsons, which premiered in prime time in 1962 (ABC's first series in color, by the way), maybe movie moguls only had to wait for TV shows (like 1962's The Beverly Hillbillies, 1964's The Munsters, and Gilligan's Island, and 1967's The Brady Bunch, all of which premiered this weekend) that would drive folks out of their homes and back to the movies. (Although 1968 brought us 60 Minutes, so it's not a total loss.)

Not that television has gotten any better. NBC's
Outsourced premieres tonight, It's set in an Indian call center, sp we have to wonder if any of the characters were fired by Donald Trump, whose Apprentice makes its return, as well. And if you can't stand those, there's always CSI, featuring a guest appearance by teen heartthrob Justin Bieber, whom we sincerely hope plays a murder victim. 

If comedy is your preference, though, you might want to dig up a copy of Richard Nixon's 1952 "Checkers" speech, wherein the then-Vice Presidential candidate made a maudlin speech to defend himself from bribery charges, admitting that yes, he’d accepted a Cocker Spaniel puppy named "Checkers," but no, he wouldn't be giving up the dog, which his daughters loved.

In 1806,
Lewis and Clark returned to St. Louis after two years of exploring the Pacific Northwest, just in time for the Autumnal Equinox, which marks, of course, the 3/4 point in the year, and the beginning of fall.


civil rights landmarks today. In 1957, President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent the 101st Airborne Division into Little Rock, Arkansas, to enforce the desegregation of Central High School, and in 1962, the United States Court of Appeals ordered the University of Mississippi to admit James Meredith as its first African-American student.

In 1896, writer
F. Scott Fitzgerald was born. Fitzgerald chronicled the Roaring Twenties in such novels as The Great Gatsby and The Beautiful and Damned, and was soon tempted by the bright lights of Hollywood, where he worked as a frustrated screenwriter. Even though he contributed to many, many scripts (including Gone With the Wind), he received only one screen credit (for 1938's Three Comrades

Seeing that today is Fitzgerald's birthday and tomorrow is that of William Faulkner, we guess it's somehow appropriate that it's also National Punctuation Day. Faulkner toiled in Hollywood, too, but is best known for his long and dense novels set in the fictional Yoknapatawpha County of Mississippi. Like Fitzgerald, he was an alcoholic, but managed to survive until 1962 (Fitzgerald had died in 1940) and was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1949. We have the feeling that many high school students would like to violate the spirit of Banned Books Week (which begins tomorrow) by removing their works from the curriculum, but we would disagree.

In the oddity file, 1947 supposedly saw the establishment of the
Majestic 12 committee by President Harry Truman. The committee was allegedly organized to investigate UFO activity in the wake of the Roswell incident in New Mexico. The only problem is that there's no evidence that the committee ever actually existed -- which is, in conspiracist's minds, probably the surest evidence it existed.

As weird as the aliens who visited Roswell were (assuming they existed) are the creatures created by
Jim Henson, the Muppet master who was born in 1936.


In 1690,
Publick Occurrences Both Foreign and Domestick, the first newspaper to appear in the Americas, was published for the first -- and only -- time. Whether it was due to bad copy-editing, we don't know.

Today's birthdays include two actors who portrayed movie
superheroes: Mark Hamill (1951) and Christopher Reeve (1952). (We were surprised to realize Hamill was older.) Mark portrayed Luke Skywalker, the would-be Jedi with father issues, and Reeve was obviously best known as Superman

Hamill's career has continued to the present, most notably as The Joker in Batman: The Animated Series, whereas Reeve's was cut short by his 1995 equestrian accident that paralyzed him from the neck down. His charity, the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, is still dedicated to finding treatments and cures for paralysis caused by spinal cord injuries.

Heroes of even another sort will appear in
Indianapolis when UFC 119 begins and big slabs of beef will try to pound each other into submission, a tactic that would most assuredly not be approved by birthday boy Shel Silverstein (1930), whose wicked wit has enlivened many a childhood (and adulthood, for that matter).

It's also
National One Hit Wonder Day, dedicated to those whose fame came and went in the twinkling of an eye, a description that would not apply to Barbara Walters, who, born in 1929, has been appearing on American television screens since 1961.


In 1774,
John Chapman, aka "Johnny Appleseed," was born. Chapman was an early conservationist, who walked across colonial America, spreading, yes, apple seeds, vegetarianism, and a gospel of ecology and health.

In 1871,
Winsor McCay was born. The father of the American animated cartoon, he was a cartoonist and draftsman almost without peer, whose idea that drawings projected in sequence could give the illusion of movement created a billion-dollar industry.

1872 saw the opening of the first
Shriner's Temple in New York City. We have to wonder what Shriners rode around in before those little cars were invented.

In 1898, Jacob Gershowitz was born in
Brooklyn. When he was 17, he published his first song as George Gershwin, and American music has never been the same. To this day, his songs are the backbone of the "Great American Songbook," and have been recorded and performed countless times. If he wrote nothing else, his opera Porgy and Bess would stand out at the greatest achievement in the history of the musical theatre. (There are some who would claim that place for West Side Story, which opened in 1957. These people are wrong.)

In 1902,
Levi Strauss died. His fame can be judged when you count the number of people who have had articles of clothing after them at all, let alone their first names.

Jack LaLanne was born in 1914, and he's still going strong. At 96, he still starts every morning with a brisk 90-minute session in the weight room, followed by a half hour walking or swimming. His lifelong commitment to health and fitness is a model to anyone of any age. He once said that he can't die, since it'd be bad for his image. We wouldn't bet against him.

We end this week by going from the sublime to the ridiculous. On CBS,
The Amazing Race returns for its latest season, offering contestants the chance to see the world while humiliating themselves and suffering from killer fatigue.

On the other hand, over on
Fox, the cast of Glee will guest on The Simpsons. One show that's downright annoying and another that's long since passed its sell-by date. But, hey, that's showbiz!

And on that note, we bid you a fond adieu until next time.

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