A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society
1885 – Erich von Stroheim, an actor and director much honoured and wildly overrated (mostly by people who’ve never seen his work). He was the persona of evil as a Hollywood German in films made during World War I and he was really good in Sunset Boulevard but that’s it — the rest is reputation. He was however, the first actor to be referred to as “the man you love to hate” and the quote “In Hollywood…you’re only as good as your last picture.”
1903 – Joe Valachi, a cheap crook in an expensive suit. It was Joe Valachi’s testimony before Congress in 1963 that confirmed what everybody already knew – that there was a socio-economic group in America called the Mafia and that they were mad, bad and dangerous to know. He was lionized by Peter Maas in his book The Valachi Papers and nobody really knows why he suddenly decided to rat out all his old buddies.
1957 – The cowboy world was turned upside down when Maverick premiered on ABC. The show was full of Old West faux pas. First of all, Bret Maverick (James Garner) showed up wearing a black hat, a good guy no-no in 1957. A self-confessed coward, our hero was more apt to talk his way out of trouble than shoot it out with the bad guys. Worse he didn’t even appear in every episode! He was often replaced by his brother Bart (Jack Kelly). Despite all this, the show was incredibly successful — even when it committed the ultimate frontier sin and permanently replaced Bret with his cousin Beau — Roger Moore (with a heavy English accent).
1927 – One of the greatest controversies in 20th century sports is the famous Jack Dempsey – Gene Tunney “Long Count” Heavyweight Championship boxing match at Soldier Field in Chicago. The fight was literally the event of the decade. There was coast-to-coast radio coverage, newsreel cameras and gate receipts that totalled more than two million dollars. There were even rumours of an Al Capone fix. Long before instant replay and video review the controversy was fuelled around the world because it was against the law to transport boxing films across state lines. So if you didn’t live in Illinois you never saw the fight. Today, we don’t have that problem, so just go to YouTube and make up your own mind.
1989 – Irving Berlin, the greatest American songwriter of all time. He started in Tin Pan Alley where he wrote “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” in 1911 – an instant success. Over the next 4 decades he wrote more than 1,500 songs including “Blue Skies,” “What’ll I do,” “There’s no Business like Show Business,” “Happy Holidays,” “White Christmas” and “God Bless America,” and on and on. No other songwriter even comes close. Oddly enough Berlin could neither read nor write music.
2007 – Marcel Marceau, a world famous French entertainer who had one serious drawback: he was a mime. All of his acting was done in mimodramas (that’s a real thing), like The Glass Cage, Walking against the Wind and Climbing a Rope. He is still considered without peer in mimedom, and legend has it that when he died, mimes all over the world honoured him with a moment of noise.