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Summer Under the Stars: Anne Baxter

Conversations_With_Classic_Film_Stars_CoverCool summer nights sitting on a blanket under the stars—there’s no better setting to watch a film from Hollywood’s Golden Age. Plus, May 6th and 7th mark the birthdays of Academy Award-winners Orson Welles and Anne Baxter, respectively, making this the perfect time to celebrate these film legends.

While Baxter will always be remembered for her role as the conniving Eve Harrington in Joseph Mankiewicz’s All about Eve (1950), James Bawden and Ron Miller reveal her softer side in their recent release, Conversations with Classic Film Stars.  Today, in celebration of what would have been Baxter’s 93rd birthday, we’d like to share some interview excerpts in which she discusses working with Welles on The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), among other things:

Setting the Scene

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Publicity photo, circa 1950. Photo via Wikipedia.

Anne Baxter (1923-1985) was a prodigious acting talent from a prestige-heavy family—her grandfather was America’s leading architect, Frank Lloyd Wright—and always seemed destined for greatness. She began acting at age eleven and went on to study with Russian actress Maria Ouspenskaya and America’s Stella Adler. She made her Broadway debut in Seen, but Not Heard in her early teens and her movie debut at seventeen. While still a teen, she worked with Orson Welles in his 1942 masterpiece The Magnificent Ambersons.

 

The Interview

BAWDEN: Let’s go back to your first film, Twenty Mule Team [1940].

BAXTER: Oh, let’s not. I’d been on the stage since I was fifteen in New York. My teacher was that old sourpuss Maria Ouspenskaya. Then in 1938 David Selznick asked me, along with Montgomery Clift, to read for Tom Sawyer. Monty had bad acne right then. David had me open my mouth and examined my teeth like I was a prize horse. And both of us flunked our tests.

Two years later David asked me again to come out and read for Rebecca and [the film’s director] Alfred Hitchcock said I had made the best test but the lead at that time was going to be Ronald Colman and he was thirty-one years older. That would make the story seem to be one of robbing the cradle, so I lost again. But the test went the rounds and I had definite offers from MGM and Fox. I simply chose Fox because it was for more money.

My parents were worried until it was arranged I’d room with a family friend, Nigel Bruce, and his wife. They were very strict, which is what I needed.

Then MGM asked to borrow me for Twenty Mule Team, a Wally Beery western, after Ann Rutherford was too busy, and I made my debut there. Wally Beery had very busy hands and Marjorie Rambeau said she’d protect me—and she did, very nicely. Stepped right in and would snort, “Back off, you old sea horse!” Acting with him was impossible. He’d paraphrase everything and told me to “jump right in when I stop talking.”

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Anne Baxter, a teen newcomer to Hollywood in 1940. Photo by Frank Powolny; copyright 20th Century-Fox. (From the book.)

MILLER: You were so young then. What did you look like in 1940?

BAXTER: I had a body like a mini Mack truck and a face that looked like it was storing nuts for the winter. I was very naïve. I had been very well brought up and I was very well educated. I was precocious, I’m sure.

Miller: Is it true that you actually were fired from the Broadway cast of The Philadelphia Story before you went to Hollywood?

BAXTER: Yes. I was fourteen and was already too busty to play an eleven-year-old.

MILLER: Even if you were pretty well developed for a young girl, it seems a testament to your acting ability that Hitchcock even considered you for the leading lady in Rebecca. Tell me about the audition.

BAXTER: They had me in a rubber girdle, laced up practically under my bosom. My knees were knocking. It was awful.

BAWDEN: After your debut at Fox, you were in one of John Barrymore’s last films, The Great Profile [1940]. Legend has it he was pretty well juiced in his final films. How did that go?

BAXTER: I was the stock ingenue. Did my first take with him and I was flailing away and Barrymore turned to director Walter Lang and said, “Does she have to swim?” He was in terrible shape. In the morning, he was so wasted that his man would have to carry him in and set him down in an easy chair. Then he’d pour Barrymore a Coke. No response. Then he’d shake in some rum flavoring and this great actor would suddenly spring to life. Amazing. Once we were waiting for a take and I asked him why he read his lines from chalkboards. Couldn’t he remember his lines? And he stood up and recited a Hamlet soliloquy. He never made a pass at me, but it was hard going for our resident vamp, Mary Beth Hughes. She bent over once to fix her stockings and he instantly leapt up to pinch her behind. If you’d asked the public of the day the greatest actor, they would have instantly responded, “John Barrymore.”

[ . . . ]

BAWDEN: When did you know you’d been loaned to RKO for The Magnificent Ambersons?

BAXTER: When it went out as a press release. It was a straight trade: Fox got Vic Mature, I think, and he subsequently joined the studio full-time. I’d talked with and tested for Orson Welles, but he said his heart was set on Jeanne Crain, who he’d met in the RKO commissary. Jeanne was prettier than I was but hadn’t acted as yet. RKO studio head George Schaefer made the call, much to Orson’s displeasure. His days as the studio golden boy ended when Citizen Kane failed to return a profit.

By the time I arrived, those huge sets were up—the main house was a fully functioning house built on a soundstage—everything worked, including the gas lighting. But the walls couldn’t be moved to accommodate cinematographer Stanley Cortez. No wonder he stormed around all the time.

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Joseph Cotten, Anne Baxter, and Tim Holt in The Magnificent Ambersons. Photo via Wikipedia.

It was a reunion with Joe Cotten, who played my father and was perfectly cast. We’d been in the tryouts of The Philadelphia Story in 1939 when Kate Hepburn had me fired because she charged I was getting big laughs. Joe had made it a point to come to my dressing room and assure me I had a future.

Dolores Costello was so motherly to me. I couldn’t believe she’d once been married to John Barrymore. She was so demure. And I had Tim Holt as my suitor, George, cast right to type. He was that way offstage. I was nineteen at the time, new to this game. I remember we shot scenes in an icehouse so our breath would be visible. That impressed me.

I wasn’t around when Agnes Moorehead tried the scene on the staircase five different ways and each way worked. To his credit Orson always asked us for acting solutions, to try something a different way. And yes, he did make the obligatory pass at me and I made the obligatory refusal.

I saw a print in a screening room at RKO that was very long—maybe almost two hours—and it seemed draggy to me. But Orson had left on his next film adventure to Brazil when the studio head ordered Bob Wise to cut it down to 88 minutes and ship it out. I think it’s a great film, but how it would have run at 120 minutes I’m not sure—that was too long for most features in those days.

[ . . . ]

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Anne Baxter with Yul Brenner in The Ten Commandments (1956). Photo via Wikipedia.

BAWDEN: How did you get the part of the pharaoh’s wife in Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments?

BAXTER: DeMille asked me to come in. His office at Paramount was bursting with books, props, rolls of linens. I told him I’d have to wear an Egyptian false nose and he pounded the table. “No. Baxter, your Irish nose stays in this picture.” He acted out my part and I kept nodding, and I walked out with the part. The soundstage sets were magnificent. It was all corny, sure, but DeMille knew it was corny—that’s what he wanted, what he loved. I loved slinking around—really, this was silent film acting but with dialogue. No shading was permitted. “Louder! Better!” That’s what DeMille roared at everybody. It was all too much for him, I’m afraid, and directing the desert scenes in the Sinai was so strenuous he had a heart attack. This one was the last film he directed. It’s on TV every Easter. I advise sitting down with a big box of chocolates, a jug of white wine, and a loaf of freshly baked bread. I do it that way and I still love this last gasp of old Hollywood excessiveness.

[ . . . ]

BAWDEN: Have you ever given any thought to retirement?

BAXTER: No [laughing]. I want to go on until they have to shoot me.

 

Afterword

Anne Baxter died suddenly in 1985 from a brain aneurysm. She was only sixty-two.

 


If you’re looking for more astounding behind-the-scenes stories from the greatest stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age, look no further than Conversations with Classic Film Stars by James Bawden and Ron Miller

 

African Americans and the Kentucky Derby: A Long and Storied History

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Jimmy Winkfield rides Alan-a-Dale in the Kentucky Derby in 1902.

“Today will be historic in Kentucky annals as the first ‘Derby Day’ of what promises to be a long series of annual turf festivities of which we confidently expect our grandchildren, a hundred years hence, to celebrate in glorious rejoicings.”—Louisville Courier-Journal, May 17, 1875

As we look forward to the 142nd running of the Kentucky Derby, we are reminded that it is impossible to talk about the “greatest two minutes in sports” without also talking about African American history. The two are inextricably tied. Of the fifteen riders at the first Kentucky Derby in 1875, thirteen were black, including the winning jockey, Oliver Lewis. Lewis rode Aristides to victory with the help of trainer Ansel Williamson, a former slave.

In the early days of American horse racing, many of the jockeys were slaves, who, after emancipation, continued working as trainers and riders for their former owners. Black jockeys won half of the first sixteen Derbies, and fifteen of the first twenty-eight, and most of the trainers were African American as well.

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Baden Baden was trained by Edward D. Brown, and ridden to victory by Billy Walker in the 1877 Kentucky Derby.

There was plenty of fame and fortune to be found for successful trainers and riders. At the third Kentucky Derby in 1877, the rider-trainer duo of Billy Walker and Ed “Brown Dick” Brown, guided Baden-Baden to a win. Ed Brown was one of the most successful trainers in the country and famous for his expensive suits and large bankrolls. Brown’s career in racing spanned more than 30 years as a jockey (who won the Belmont Stakes in 1870), a trainer, and as an owner. His horse, Monrovia, won the Kentucky Oaks in 1893. His filly, Etta, won in 1900. He was inducted into the National Racing Hall of Fame in 1984.

Some of the best-known names of the era were the jockeys. Alonzo “Lonnie” Clayton still holds the record as the youngest-ever Kentucky Derby winner. At the age of 15, he won the 1892 Derby astride Azra. Isaac Burns Murphy was very well respected by his fellow jockeys, trainers, owners, breeders, and fans across the country. He was the first jockey to win back-to-back Kentucky Derbies. James “Jimmy” Winkfield almost eclipsed Murphy’s record in 1903, when he placed second in what would have been his third Kentucky Derby win in a row.

Unfortunately, Jimmy Winkfield was also the last African American to win the Kentucky Derby. Since 1911, when Jess Conley finished third, only three other black jockeys have ridden horses in the Derby. As James C. Nicholson writes in The Kentucky Derby:

“In fact, black riders were forced out of the sport by jealous white jockeys and bigoted owners and trainers in an increasingly racially biased American society whose court system had given official sanction to various Jim Crow laws by the end of the nineteenth century. As the Derby became increasingly popular on a national scale in the twentieth century, blacks still played indispensable roles in the lives of racehorses and the sport of horse racing. But grooms, hot-walkers, and stable hands operated far from the spotlight that would shine ever brighter on top athletes, including jockeys.”

This Saturday, as the riders take their mounts and as we celebrate the horse-trainer-jockey team who take their victory lap around the winners circle, take a moment to remember history and the men who should never be forgotten.

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This post originally appeared on our blog on April 26, 2015.

The Perfect Kentucky Derby Party

Plan Perfect Derby Party

Like the big race itself, Kentucky Derby parties never go out of style. This post was originally published on our blog on May 2, 2015:

Of the many traditions that go hand-in-hand with the Kentucky Derby—the hat, the silks, the roses, the singing of “My Old Kentucky Home”—hosting a Derby party can be the most fun, especially for those who can’t make it to Churchill Down; but it can also be the most stressful. If you’re looking to throw the perfect Derby party, look no further than the recipes, decor, and ideas below. If you’re looking for something printable, download a PDF here: Plan the perfect KENTUCKY DERBY PARTY.

The Space:

tissue paper roses DIYRoses, roses everywhere! Run to the florist, or fake it up with red tissue paper to celebrate the Run for the Roses. Plus, its easy to coordinate with red plates and dinnerware. Set up a photo station with your own blanket of roses covering a blank stretch of wall. It only takes three things: thin wire, a cheap shower curtain, and plenty of red tissue paper. Here’s a great how-to from Brit and Co.

Fun & Festive:

It’s not a party without party games! Here are a few of our favorites to keep the good times going until the call to the post:

  • Bring the Derby to the Derby party! Place the names of the horses (or the numbers 1 -20) on folded slips of paper into a hat (bonus points for using a derby hat!) Guests can draw the number of the horse they’re rooting for in the big race. Make sure to have a fantastic prize for the winner, maybe an extra Race-Day Pie to take home?
  • The weather is (almost) always beautiful the first weekend in May. Horseshoes and/or Corn Hole move the party outdoors into the yard, putting Derby hats to good use under the sun.
  • Speaking of Derby hats, why not have a contest to see who has the best Derby hat? The men are invited too!
  • And lastly, an idea from KentuckyDerby.com: Ice Cube Jockey Races. Freeze small jockeys (or any differently colored or shaped tokens) to the tops of ice cubes. At the start of the race all participants can wager on a horse. Take a flat, smooth surface (glass from a large picture frame, an over-the-door bathroom mirror, etc.) and lay it across a table at an angle. Line the ice cube jockeys up, keeping them in place with a yard stick and then let them loose all at once for a fun and crazy race. To repeat simply refreeze the jockeys on new ice cubes and freeze until the down time between the next races.

The Drinks:

C’mon, this one’s obvious: mint juleps all around! Easy to prep and easy to serve, you really can’t go wrong with the most traditional of traditions; it’s a classic for a reason. Perfect MINT JULEP For the younger partiers, the designated drivers, and those who might not be bourbon fans (it’s OK, we forgive them), you can’t go wrong with a non-alcoholic sparkler. You can even reuse your mint-infused simple syrup for extra flavor. Derby Sparkler Drink

The Food:

Origin stories differ greatly, but burgoo has definitely evolved into a delicious “catch-all” stew. Basically, you can’t go wrong throwing everything you’ve “caught” into a giant pot and letting it simmer until ready. But if you’re looking for a specific recipe, The Kentucky Fresh Cookbook by nutritionist Maggie Green, has great ingredients and an easy, one-pot method.

Kentucky Fresh Burgoo

For small-bites, try Maggie Green’s steamed asparagus or green beans with toasted sesame mayonnaise:

Trim the asparagus and/or green beans and steam until bright green and tender (but still a little crisp). To make the toasted sesame mayonnaise dipping sauce, whisk 1 cup mayonnaise, juice of 1/2 lemon, 3 tablespoons dark sesame seed oil, 2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Serve on the side as a dipping sauce, or thin with a bit more lemon juice and drizzle it over the veggies.

Sweet Treats:

Race-Day Pie, Saturday-in-May Pie, Bluegrass Pie…whatever you call it, the trademarked treat with bourbon, chocolate, and pecans in a pie crust is a must-have on the first Saturday of May.

In Bourbon Desserts, Lynn Marie Hulsman offers up the recipe for her Grandma Rose’s Big Race Pie. If you want to go really Kentucky, snag your flour from Weisenberger Mill, your pecans from Hickman, Kentucky, and your chocolate from Ruth Hunt Candies (or your favorite, local chocolatier).

Bourbon Desserts Derby Pie

A Summer Under the Stars

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Cool summer nights, on a blanket, under the stars – there’s no better setting to watch a classic film. Conversations with Classic Film Stars: Interviews from Hollywood’s Golden Era is out now, and it is sure to help you bring these big-time silver screen stars back to life. With rare interviews from big stars like Margaret Hamilton. If ever an actor was defined by a single role—and loved for it through the ages—it was Margaret Hamilton, whose cackling voice and sharp features are vivid memories to generations of movie fans who remember her as the Wicked Witch of the 1939 movie classic, The Wizard of Oz. Hamilton was a veteran of Broadway theater, radio, and television as well as the movies, where she specialized in character roles. She might even have been remembered, if for nothing else, as Cora from the Maxwell House coffee TV ads she did in the late 1970s.

Setting the Scene

Meeting Margaret Hamilton was a real thrill for an old Wizard of Oz fan. It happened in January 1972. Hamilton was busy stealing scenes from Jean Simmons in the road company of A Little Night Music in Toronto, and I arranged an interview with her between shows. When I walked into the lobby of the King Edward Hotel for lunch with her, I suppose I was expecting someone who cackled and had a broom waiting in her parking space. Instead, I was greeted by a beautifully coiffed matron in a Chanel suit. Not once was she recognized by the other diners as one of cinema’s best-ever villainesses.

The Interview

BAWDEN: Does it bother you that everywhere you go you’re—

HAMILTON: The Wicked Witch of the West? Well, I wouldn’t get any work at my Hamilton_Wicked Witchage if I didn’t have that great movie as my signature piece. I mean nobody asks me about Mountain Justice [1937], The Gay Vagabond [1941], or Breaking the Ice [1938]. Why would they? But to have one film that’s still seen more than thirty years later? Well, it’s astounding.

BAWDEN: I keep hearing you were not first choice for the role.

HAMILTON: Mervyn LeRoy, who produced it, asked me to come in and test in full makeup. I worked with the designers on what I thought was a particularly foul-looking costume. I just thought of Halloween. I suggested the pointed hat and I found an old broomstick in a corner. Then I read in the trades a week later Gale Sondergaard had waltzed in and wowed them with a particularly glamorous interpretation. And she even announced she’d gotten it. I just shrugged and kept on working on my character studies. Then I was at a football game with my little son and Mervyn spotted me and ran over and said, “We’ve been looking for you everywhere. You got it! Report Monday for costume and makeup tests.” He offered me six weeks at $1,000 a week, which was manna for me. It eventually stretched out to twenty-three weeks. I asked him what had happened to Gale and Mervyn said, “Too pretty. We needed somebody who could scare the pants off children.”

BAWDEN: But the making of that movie wasn’t your fondest experience, was it?

HAMILTON: Working on it almost killed me. Buddy Ebsen, who was the original Tin Man, was rushed to the hospital and replaced by Jack Haley. The cause was paint poisoning and he was there for an awfully long time.

Supporting actors were not well regarded in those days. In one scene, I had to drop six feet through a trapdoor with the colored smoke all around me, and it was a close-up so there was no double. I was told to bend my knees and I’d land simply, but suddenly I was in flames. Somebody had prematurely touched the fire button. I was on fire! My broomstick went right up! My hat was on fire! I had to be hospitalized for second-degree burns for a month. MGM grudgingly paid the bills, but my face was seared, I had third-degree burns on one hand. I was in agony. My agent said if I sued I’d never work in this town again.

When I returned, I was told I’d be suspended in the air with a long pipe emitting smoke below me. I said no and they said I was a sissy and brought in the stand-in and she saddled up and the whole gadget exploded. She was badly wounded and spent months in the hospital.

BAWDEN: But surely there must be happy moments?

HAMILTON: Well, working with Jack Haley, Bert Lahr, Ray Bolger was heavenly. They kidded Judy [Garland] like crazy to keep her perky. Those Munchkins were Margaret Hamilton-Mae Westsomething else—a bad lot, I say, but they were afraid of me and kept their distance.

Watching Judy Garland perform was lovely. She had such energy. I didn’t realize it was all the Benzedrine she was being force-fed. They worked Judy to the bone. Saturdays, too, right up to the dawn breaking on Sunday morning. You know Judy was only sixteen and she was about to graduate from Hollywood High and I helped her pick the dress, but she had to do a cross-promotional Oz tour and only got back the day before her last day at high school.

I had my lovely little son, Meserve, with me one day in the commissary and [MGM studio boss] Louis B. Mayer waddles over and offered him a kiddie contract. “Don’t you dare!” I shouted and he ran off. I’d seen, up front, the awful things Hollywood did to little children.

Take a stopwatch and you’ll see I’m only around for less than fifteen minutes. It took an awful lot of effort to get those fifteen minutes. I became the real star of it because children always love to be frightened nearly to death. And little tots still recognize me on the street today. They point at me and shiver and laugh. It’s quite a compliment to think I still look a bit like that. . . .

BAWDEN: Were there any of the big stars you truly enjoyed working with?

HAMILTON: Oh, Carole Lombard would be right at the top of any list. I have to explain the star pecking order in those days. The stars had huge dressing rooms—many were suites complete with kitchens and even bedrooms—and portable ones on location. They were insulated from the rest of us. We were ensconced in a holding pen. I’d read, study my lines. But interaction was rare. With Carole, she came over and sat with us. She would be taking the lay of the land. She’d get her makeup done right there. An all right dame. And her mastery of screwball comedy was supreme. She was so lithe with a comedy line even Freddie March had trouble keeping up. I ran the drugstore in Warsaw, Vermont, in that one.

Eddie Robinson was the same way in A Slight Case of Murder [1938]. A sheer delight, very erudite. Bespectacled between the scenes. On camera, a whirling dervish, very competitive.

The year I did Wizard of Oz I also had a part in Babes in Arms with Judy Garland. The way Busby Berkeley mistreated her was awful. And Judy’s mom let him get away with this abuse. I was the aunt of one of the kids, name of Martha Steele, whom I loved. Judy asked me to sit with her in her dressing room. That way the mom couldn’t have a temper tantrum. I smuggled her in cookies because she was kept on a starvation diet. I told Busby off once about his foul language. He couldn’t really direct people. He could only devise those geometric shapes.

Years later during Judy’s Carnegie Hall triumphs I went backstage and she didn’t recognize me or Ray Bolger. He was in tears, saying she was on something. I did a Merv Griffin Show with her and her speech was slurred. I realized the sweet little teenager I’d known was long gone. . .

BAWDEN: In My Little Chickadee [1940] you had to contend with W. C. Fields and Mae West. How did that go?Margaret Hamilton

HAMILTON: Bill Fields walked in the first day, reeking of liquor. He came over and apologized to me. Understand, I was in awe of his talents. I said, “Mr. Fields, on you it smells like eau de cologne,” and he brightened up. A very sweet egomaniac. Ditto Mae West, who looked like an overstuffed mannequin. She said to me, “Margaret, can I help it if every man on this set is crazy in love with me?” Well, the love was one-sided, I can tell you. She was forty-eight and needed special lighting to wash out her creases. And Bill was constantly changing lines and she’d protest to director Eddie Cline, who told me he now knew how a wrestling referee felt.

Everyone seems to have seen this one, but it was considered a disappointment when first released. Mr. Fields never used bad language, although he was sorely tried when Miss West was in one of her moods. She kept saying, “I’m a solo performer. Please tell Bill that next time you find him awake.” Like all comics he’d try out a bit of business and then spend days refining it. He simply tried to add to his performance and she to hers. Mae would say, “Bill! Enough!” and waddle away and he’d mope for the rest of the afternoon. Thinking of that scene where he gets into bed with a billy goat still makes me laugh. But Mae wanted it out as being unrefined. . . .

What I want to explain is how grateful I’ve been. I could have spent all these years teaching kindergarten. I used to go out to junior grades to say hello, and all the kids would ask me to cackle. Which I always did at full throttle, and the little nippers would be cowering in their seats. We even had a few moist accidents. I’ve played hundreds of characters and I’m still up for more. Preston Sturges called me a “miniaturist” and that’s pretty wonderful as far as I’m concerned.

Afterword

Margaret Hamilton acted until 1982, when she played guest roles on two CBS series—Nurse and Lou Grant. She died of a heart attack, aged eighty-two, in Salisbury, Connecticut, on May 16, 1985. Predictably, the obituaries’ headlines all mentioned The Wizard of Oz.

Con-GRAD-ulations, Class of 2016!

CON-GRAD-ULATIONS!

Graduation is exciting and terrifying no matter what stage in your education. It can be as scary as knowing you’re starting high school next year, or waiting for your college acceptance letter, or applying for the first job of the career you’re hoping to build. Its also incredibly exciting to move on to a new phase, with new opportunities and possibilities you may never have expected!

Last year, we gave you motivational quotes from inspiring Kentuckians to encourage you on the first steps of your new journey. This year, we’re going to focus in on one guy specifically. Iron Man.

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Well, maybe not the high-flying, red suit Avenger, but our own, Kentucky Iron Man, Alben Barkley.

During his concession speech after losing the 1938 US Senate election, Kentucky Governor A.B. “Happy” Chandler paid tribute to his newly reelected rival. “I always thought Senator Barkley was indestructible,” he admitted, and at the time it would have been hard to argue otherwise. Alben Barkley had just secured his third term in the US Senate after seven consecutive terms representing Kentucky in the House, and he was on his way to an appointment as Harry S. Truman’s vice president in 1949. His sole losing campaign had been a bid for Governor of Kentucky in 1928, but his habit of giving up to sixteen speeches a day and propensity for campaigning on horseback earned Barkley the nickname the “Iron Man”9780813167138 of politics.

In Alben Barkley: A Life in Politics, historian James K. Libbey presents the first full-length biography of the hardworking former vice president of the United States. A loyal Democrat, Barkley was able to make a name for himself shepherding Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal programs through Congress. Due to his prominent help, Barkley quickly rose from junior senator to senate majority leader, before becoming Truman’s vice president. His dedication to his party and his hard working spirit pushed Barkley to take charge of domestic affairs while his president became immersed in the Second World War, and his tireless commitment to his country carried him through the trials of public service.

Barkley’s career belied his humble origins. He was born to poor tenant farmers in Graves County, Kentucky, who instilled in him a strong work ethic at a young age. He graduated from Marvin College in 1897, but when he was unable to afford to continue school, he read for the bar on his own, passing in 1901. So, maybe you don’t know what you’re doing next, or perhaps you have a detailed road map to your goal; Mr. Barkley teaches all of us that a little hard work can go a really long way.

Jack Nicholson is 79 today!

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Today is legendary film star Jack Nicholson’s 79th birthday! Before you bust out the cake and start toasting his health, let’s take a moment to see what other Hollywood legends have to say about the life of the A-lister (the following opinions are excerpted from Jack Nicholson: The Early Years by Robert Crane and Christopher Fryer):

Roger Corman – The film director credited with discovering Nicholson
Question: Can you tell us how you first discovered Jack Nicholson?
Roger Corman: As a director I enrolled in an acting class of Jeff Corey’s,feeling I wanted to know a little bit more about acting. I wasn’t trying to be an actor, but just to add to my working background as a director, and Jack was in the class and I was very much impressed by his work. So Jack and I became friends, and we worked together in a number of films. This was about ten or twelve years ago [side note: this book was originally published in 1975].
Question: Where do you think Jack Nicholson ranks among American actors today?
Corman: I think he’s one of the most important American actors for this reason: he’s one of the few leading men who will take a chance on extremely unusual and offbeat material, and I think that’s one of the reasons he will probably stay a major actor for most of his life, or as long as he wants to work. He will not run the danger of being typecast and tossed aside when that particular type of film fades from favor. His willingness, if not eagerness, to go to offbeat material will stand him in good stead. I think somewhere along the line he will make a mistake, and one or two of those films will be unfortunate choices, but I think this is the nature of the game.

Bruce Dern – Well-known Hollywood actor and close friend of Nicholson
Question: Do you think at this point you could pick out one performance and call it his best?
Dern: Easy Rider.
Question: Why?
Dern: It was the first time that we’d seen him. He was definitely the character. He was more a deep part of Jack than what we’ve seen before. Now his overall performance in Five Easy Pieces was outstanding, but it was closer to Jack. He didn’t have to reach as far. I think probably the years will tell us that the work in Five Easy Pieces was greater than Easy Rider. But for me, Easy Rider was the World Series for him, and he won the car. I mean, that’s what it’s all about. For me, Marvin Gardens is the World Series, and I won the car. They may not know I won the car, but I won the car, because I know I was great in the film. I’ve never done as good work in my life. And we’re talking about two guys that always do great work, but somehow the thing that’s the most gratifying is when a guy does it under the pressure of knowing that this is his shot. A guy like Redford will always have a shot, that’s why his work ain’t never worth a shit. He’s good; he’s always good, but he ain’t never great. Beatty’s the same way, only I think Redford is a good deal better actor than Beatty is. He’s always Warren Beatty. He’ll give you a couple of variations, but Jack was not just Jack in Easy Rider, nor was he in Five Easy Pieces, and there’s no way he’s Jack in this, and there’s no way I’m Bruce in this. But there’ll be a whole new flock of fans that will see this movie and say, “That’s Jack Nicholson, and that’s Bruce Dern.” That’s why I think Easy Rider was the best thing.

What Jack Nicholson had to say about himself:
Question: How important were your early films to the advancement of your career?
Nicholson: Very important. Any work that you do as an actor is important to you as an actor in learning it. This is how you develop; you have to work. Very few actors have been any good in movies before they’ve done a few. What’s happened in the commercial marketplace is that only the young people are pulling the people into the theaters right now. John Wayne, or any of these guys, aren’t really pulling people. This has caused the young actor to be more prominent than he would be normally. I always felt that I was lucky to be doing all those movies, even though I felt that at least half of them were really stinky. A lot of actors are having to learn—like I was having a conversation with Warren Beatty, and it’s hard for someone like Warren to have to learn the acting while doing it at a very important commercial level. It’s a painful and difficult experience—one that I’m glad I didn’t really have to go through. Warren did it very well, I think. He did mostly good, interesting films.Question: Can you characterize Jack Nicholson in one sentence?
Nicholson: He just wanted to make it nice.

We sincerely hope Mr. Nicholson has an enjoyable birthday today. If you would like to learn more about his life, be sure to check out the only biography he has actively taken a part in, Jack Nicholson: The Early Years.

It’s Earth Day Eve!

In a world filled with technology and innovation, it is so easy to get swept up in the motion of life. Fortunately for the world, Earth Day comes around every April to remind us where we came from and the primitive nature that this world once began with. One woman has kept her roots (pun intended) in tact over the years, becoming one of the most successful and influential activists in the field of agriculture. Of course I’m talking about Vandana Shiva, whose groundbreaking research has exposed the destructive effects of monocultures and commercial agriculture and revealed the interrelationships among ecology, gender, and poverty.

To celebrate Earth Day this year and the importance of agriculture in our lives, we have prepared an excerpt from The Vandana Shiva Reader, which how Shiva’s profound understanding of both the perils and potential of our interconnected world calls upon citizens of all nations to renew their commitment to love and care for soil, seeds, and people:

In 1984, a number of tragic events took place in India. In June, the Golden Temple was attacked because it was harboring extremists. In October, Indira Gandhi was assassinated. And in December, a terrible industrial disaster took place in Bhopal when Union Carbine’s pesticide plant leaked a toxic gas. Thirty thousand people died in the terrorism in Punjab, and thirty thousand people have died in the “industrial terrorism” of Bhopal. This is equivalent to twelve 9/11s. I was forced to sit up and ask why agriculture had become like war. Why did the “Green Revolution,” which had received the Nobel Peace Prize, breed extremism and terrorism in Punjab? This questioning led to my books The Violence of the Green Revolution and Monocultures of the Mind. Blindness to diversity and self-organization in nature and society was clearly a basic problem in the mechanistic, Cartesian industrial paradigm. And this blindness led to false claims that industrial monocultures in forestry, farming, fisheries, and animal husbandry produced more food and were necessary to alleviate hunger and poverty. On the contrary, monocultures produce less and use more inputs, thus destroying the environment and impoverishing people.

In 1987, the Dag Hammarjold Foundation organized a meeting on biotechnology in Geneva called Laws of Life. I was invited because of my book on the Green Revolution. At the conference, the biotech industry laid out its plans—to patent life; to genetically engineer seeds, crops, and life-forms; and to get full freedom to trade through the GATT negotiations, which finally led to the WTO. This led to my focus on intellectual property rights, free trade, globalization—and to a life dedicated to saving seeds and promoting organic farming as an alternative to a world dictated and controlled by corporations.

Having dedicated my life to the defense of the intrinsic worth of all species, the idea of life-forms, seeds, and biodiversity being reduced to corporate inventions and hence corporate property was abhorrent to me. Further, if seeds become “intellectual property,” saving and sharing seeds become intellectual property theft. Our highest duty, to save seeds, becomes a criminal act. The legalizing of the criminal act of owning and monopolizing life through patents on seeds and plants was morally and ethically unacceptable to me. So I started Navdanya, a movement that promotes biodiversity conservation and seed saving and seed sharing among farmers. Navdanya has created more than twenty community “seed banks” through which seeds are saved and freely exchanged among our three hundred thousand members.

Through our saving of heritage seeds, we have brought back “forgotten foods” like jhangora (barnyard millet), ragi (finger millet), marsha (amaranth), naurangi dal, and gahat dal. Not only are these crops more nutritious than the globally traded commodities, but they are also more resource prudent, requiring only two hundred to three hundred millimeters of rain compared to the twenty-five hundred millimeters needed for chemical rice farming. Millets could increase food production four hundred fold using the same amount of limited water. These forgotten foods are the foods of the future. Farmers’ seeds are the seeds of the future.
In addition to The Vandana Shiva Reader, Shiva has just recently published two new books:

Stolen Harvest: The Hijacking of Global Food Supply – In this book, Shiva explores the devastating effects of commercial agriculture and genetic engineering on the food we eat, the farmers who grow it, and the soil that sustains it. This prescient critique and call to action covers some of the most pressing topics of this ongoing dialogue, from the destruction of local food cultures and the privatization of plant life, to unsustainable industrial fish farming and safety concerns about corporately engineered foods.

 

The Violence of the Green Revolution: Third World Agriculture, Ecology, and Politics – The Green Revolution has been heralded as a political and technological achievement—unprecedented in human history. Yet in the decades that have followed it, this supposedly nonviolent revolution has left lands ravaged by violence and ecological scarcity. A dedicated empiricist, Shiva takes a magnifying glass to the effects of the Green Revolution in India, examining the devastating effects of monoculture and commercial agriculture and revealing the nuanced relationship between ecological destruction and poverty. In this classic work, the influential activist and scholar also looks to the future as she examines new developments in gene technology.

For more information on The Vandana Shiva Reader, click here!