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|Hal Kanter (b. 1918) – U.S. comedy writer – So Far, So Funny (1999)|
He wrote or co-wrote films including Once Upon a Horse … (1958) for Rowan and Martin; The Road to Bali (1952) for Hope and Bing Crosby; Move Over, Darling (1963), starring Doris Day; and Frank Capra’s Pocketful of Miracles (1961). In 1957, as well as co-writing the script, he directed Loving You, Elvis Presley’s second movie and his first with top billing. For television, in 1968 Kanter created the pioneering sitcom Julia, starring Diahann Carroll as Julia Baker, a widowed nurse whose husband had been killed in Vietnam and who was bringing up a young son (Corey Baker) alone. It was the first show to feature a black female lead and, Kanter said, was also important in providing a role model for black children. [from the U.K. Guardian obituary, November 10, 2011]
Born December 18
Alfred Bester (b. 1913) U.S. science fiction novelist, TV and radio writer – The Demolished Man (1953) “And the bartender says to Renee Descartes, “Another beer?” And Descartes says, “I think not,” and disappears”
Khas-Magomed Hadjimuradov (b. 1953) – Kazakh Chechen songwriter
|Péter Tímár (b. 1950) – Hungarian film director, screenwriter|
Read a review of Timar’s film Csinibaba / Dollybirds (1997) here
It’s 22 August 1992, and the day is starting much like any other in Communist Hungary. Uncle Simon wakes up the tenement block with some stirring music and makes the day’s announcements. To Attila, there is one that really is worth listening to this time. There is to be a talent competition and, more than that, the first prize will be a trip to a youth convention on the other side of the Iron Curtain -in Helsinki. This has particular interest for Attila, since his beloved, Katinka, lives in Toronto. The distance between them is straining his heart, not to mention the fact that she hasn’t written for a good number of years. Winning the competition would be an ideal way of escaping to Canada so they may be reunited.
Exploiting the very absurdity of the medium of the musical, Timar gains good comic effect when all manner of characters break into song in the most unlikely of places. Timar also makes very effective use of editing to caricature his characters, speeding up short impulsive movements to accentuate how laughable they are or slowing characters down to allow them to wallow in their own narcissistic sensuality. This all makes Csinibaba an engaging mix of period accuracy and anachronism.
And it’s the flavour of this age which Timar so endearingly recreates. A period when life was comfortable, but didn’t give you much space for hopes and dreams. In such a climate, the young at heart can hardly fail to have dreams and they can only be frustrated ones. [from Andrew J Horton’s article in Central European Review, 1999]
Watch the opening of Csinibaba here (Hungarian language)
Péter Tímár talks about his film Zimmer Feri / Feri’s Gang (1998) here
The main character is played by Gábor Reviczky, he is Feri Zimmer, his wife is Judit Pogány, their daughter is Vanda Kovács, the actress known from Dollybirds, while her fiancé is played by József Szarvas. These four together are there to rip off people. Renting a house at the shore of Lake Balaton, they open a small hotel and a restaurant with the firm purpose of getting rich in a single summer. They need to buy a home for their daughter on one hand, and they are head over heels in debt on the other. Then all they want is disappear quickly, because they hate catering and hate Germans. But that’s what one can get rich with quickly at present. Feri’s favourite saying is : “Do we have capitalism? All right. The survival of the surviving? All right. Do the large fish eat the small fish? Let them enjoy their meal!”
The Zimmer family catch their guests by throwing nails on the road in front of the house, causing the puncture of tyres, which prompts guests to stop at the hotel. They catch two public health officers in disguise, (Erika Ozsda and László Szacsvay), who, realising the something is wrong here, decide to rent a room and stay to do a control.
I have for a long time felt an interest in what was going on at Lake Balaton, which I think is shameful. What makes this story entirely absurd is that hotel-owners live almost only of Germans, while they simply can’t stand them. The story is topical even today, and perhaps even more so. In the four years that have elapsed, we have even learnt to see things clearer. Because I do not think that what we are having here is the wild version of capitalism. When back in 1947 the Hungarian Workers’ Party took a turn towards socialism, then, in parallel, a conscious process of re-education was also launched, which was going on for years. Those in power literally taught people what socialism was. While now we have just been thrown into this new situation, and everybody has to learn to survive it on their own. By ripping off others, for example.
Born December 19
Gisèle Freund (b. 1908) German-born French photographer – Photographie et société (1974)
Su Tung-p’o [Su Shi] (b. 1036 or 1037) Chinese Buddhist poet of the Song Dynasty
|Kate Atkinson (b. 1951) – U.K. novelist, playwright|
Behind the Scenes at the Museum won the Whitbread Book of the Year award in 1995, beating works by authors such as Salman Rushdie. This sprawling work traces the life of Ruby Lennox, an unusually self-aware narrator, from conception to death as she weaves a complicated tapestry of the lives of her family. Its postmodern style, at once playful and profound, and its concern for the details of everyday life have led to Atkinson’s work being described as “Kurt Vonnegut meets Jane Austen.” [from the Encyclopedia of British Writers]
If Atkinson had her way, she would write in a bland hotel, shut down the decisions of real life to sink more deeply into fiction. “When I’m writing,” she says, “my neural pathways get blocked. I can’t read. I can barely hold a conversation without forgetting words and names.” It’s as if her brain is a computer, running a writing programme that demands more and more memory until all other operations are left sluggish.
“I wish I could wear the same clothes and eat the same food each day,” she sighs. And as talk of food and the mind coincides, she tells me that a psychologist friend told her recently that all her books are “about cannibalism”. Are they? I ask.
“Well,” she muses, “there’s a lot of flesh, taking it in…” [from U.K. Telegraph “A Writer’s Life: Kate Atkinson” by Helen Brown, August 29, 2004]
Read a review of Started Early, Took My Dog
“Started Early, Took My Dog” is the fourth of Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie novels (the others are, in order: “Case Histories,” “One Good Turn” and “When Will There Be Good News?”). Each one of these books, including this latest, is a delight: an intricate construction that assembles itself before the reader’s eyes, populated by idiosyncratic, multidimensional characters and written with shrewd, mordant grace. They are in some respects mystery novels, but they’re written with a literary skill uncommon in that genre, and in a mode — the tragicomic — that few but the most adept novelists can pull off in any genre. Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie books are like high-wire acts in which she is forever defying gravity (in the form of crime fiction’s improbable conventions) by making the work fresh, unpredictable and alive. [from Salon.com March 13, 2011]
Born December 20
Nalo Hopkinson (b. 1960) Jamaican-Canadian novelist / short story writer – Brown Girl in the Ring
Väinö Linna (b. 1920) – Finnish novelist – Tuntematon sotilas / The Unknown Soldier (1954)
Heinrich Boll (b. 1917) – German writer (fiction and nonfiction) – Irish Journal (1957)
Read about Heinrich Boll here
Watch a video about Heinrich Boll in Ireland
Longer and longer grew the line-up at the counter where the nectar of Western Europe was available in generous quantities for a small sum: tea, as if the Irish were doing their utmost not to surrender this world record held by them just ahead of England: almost ten pounds of tea are consumed annually per head in Ireland; enough tea to fill a small swimming pool must flow down every Irish throat every year.
As I slowly moved along in the line-up I had time to recall the other Irish world records: this little country holds not only the tea-drinking record, but also the one for the consecration of new priests (the Archdiocese of Cologne would have to consecrate nearly a thousand new priests a year to compete with a small archdiocese in Ireland); the third world record held by Ireland is that of moviegoing (again—how much in common despite the differences!—just ahead of England); finally the fourth, a significant one of which I dare not say it stands in causal relationship to the first three: in Ireland there are fewer suicides than anywhere else on earth. The records for whisky-drinking and cigarette-smoking have not yet been ascertained, but in these disciplines Ireland is also well ahead, this little country the size of Bavaria but with fewer inhabitants than those between Essen and Dortmund. [from Irish Journal, Chapter 1]
Born December 21
Ivan Blatný (b.1919) – Czechoslovakian poet
Edward Hoagland (b. 1932) – U.S. essayist, travel and nature writer – “The Big Cats” Esquire April 1961
|Giacomo Puccini (b. 1858) – Italian opera composer – Madame Butterfly (1904)|
Mario Lanza sings “Che Gelida Manina” from Puccini’s La Boheme
Anita Cerquetti sings “Vissi d’arte” from Puccini’s Tosca here
“Recondita armonia” from Puccini’s Tosca here
Born December 22
Kenneth Rexroth (b. 1905) – U.S. poet
Eduard Uspensky (b.1937) – Russian children’s fiction – Uncle Fyodor, His Dog and His Cat
|Alison Sudol (b. 1984) – U.S. singer/songwriter for “A Fine Frenzy”|
Read about Alison Sudol here
Born December 23
Katie Underwood (b. 1975) – Australian singer / songwriter
Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa (b. 1896) – Italian (Sicilian) novelist and essayist – Il Gatopardo (The Leopard)
|Mary Higgins Clark (b. 1927) – U.S. novelist|
Although the Great Depression began when Higgins Clark was still a baby, her family was initially not affected, and even insisted on feeding the men who knocked on their door looking for work. By the time Higgins Clark was ten, however, the family began to experience financial trouble, as many of their customers were unable to pay the bar tabs they had run up. Higgins Clark’s father was forced to lay off several employees and work longer hours, spending no more than a few hours at home each day. The family was thrown into further turmoil in 1939, when young Mary returned home from an early Mass to discover that her father had died in his sleep.
Nora Higgins, now a widow with three young children to support, soon discovered that few employers were willing to hire a 52-year-old woman who had not held a job in over fourteen years. To pay the bills, Higgins Clark was forced to move out of her bedroom so that her mother could rent it out to paying boarders.
Six months after their father’s death, Higgins Clark’s older brother cut his foot on a piece of metal and contracted severe osteomyelitis. Higgins Clark and her mother prayed constantly for him, and their neighbors came en masse to give blood for the many transfusions the young boy needed. Despite the dire predictions of the doctors, Joseph Higgins survived. Higgins Clark credits his recovery to the power of their prayers.
At sixteen Higgins Clark made her first attempt at publishing her work, sending an entry to True Confessions which was rejected.
To help pay the bills, she worked as a switchboard operator at the Shelton Hotel, where she often listened in to the residents’ conversations. In her memoir she recalls spending much time eavesdropping on Tennessee Williams, but complained that he never said anything interesting. On her days off, Higgins Clark would window shop, mentally choosing the clothes she would wear when she finally became a famous writer. [from Wikipedia]
Mary Higgins Clark tells Tavis Smiley about her experience with Tennessee Williams (“that crazy playwright who paid 30 dollars a month for his room”) here
Born December 24
Herbert Reinecker (b. 1914) – German novelist, screenwriter
Isador Feinstein Stone (b. 1907) – U.S. Journalist / liberal investigative political writer – In A Time Of Torment, 1961-1967