Dai Vernon

Dai VernonItalian Baroque composer Giovanni Antonio Giay was born on this day in 1690. And Portuguese Baroque composer Carlos Seixas was born in 1704. English Romantic painter John Constable was born in 1776. Photographic innovator Julia Margaret Cameron was born in 1815. Refrigeration technology inventor Carl von Linde was born in 1842.

On this day in 1864, the great composer Richard Strauss was born. Since I was a kid, I’ve been most interested in him not for his music but for his life. His only son Franz married a Jewish woman. He spent much of the late 30s and early 40s trying to protect his daughter-in-law and grandsons. And he was successful. But it did require him to associate with the Nazi regime in ways that disgusted him. Here is Also sprach Zarathustra, which Joseph Goebbels thought decadent, performed by the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra:

The man who moved his family’s textile company into automobiles, Kiichiro Toyoda was born in 1894. Jacques Cousteau was born in 1910. And one of the few football coaches I could name, Vince Lombardi was born in 1913.

Gene Wilder is 80 today. I doubt that Mel Brooks should have gotten screenwriting credit for Young Frankenstein. As far as I can tell, Wilder conceived and wrote the whole thing and Brooks acted the way directors normally do in the development of scripts. Much the same thing can be said of Blazing Saddles, where Brooks took top credit for screenwriting and put “Story by Andrew Bergman” in tiny letters. I think everyone knows that Bergman is a comic genius because of his later career, but few even know that Wilder wrote Young Frankenstein and is singularly responsible for its best scene:[1]

This clip from the movie has been eliminated from the internet. Of course our copyright system is out of control. But even more, these copyright owners are extremely shortsighted about this stuff. Might it be the case that having great clips like this would increase sales? I don’t doubt it.

One of the few football players I could name, Joe Montana is 57. The great comedian Hugh Laurie is 54. Here he is with Stephen Fry doing their brilliant skit about the privatization of the police force:

And actor Peter Dinklage is 44.

The day, however, belongs to the great magician Dai Vernon who was born on this day in 1894. He had an enormous influence on close-up magic over the last century (he lived to be 98). But unlike too much of the magic fraternity, he wasn’t obsessed with getting credit for ever little thing he did. Magic, I’m afraid, is like academic politics: fierce because the stakes are so low. So in that environment, Vernon was refreshingly pleasant. And brilliant. Here is something amazing: 26 seconds of him doing the slow motion card vanish as a young man:

Happy birthday Dai Vernon!


[1] Yes, I really do hate Mel Brooks. I think he’s an awful human being. But if he had done any decent work after Young Frankenstein, I would be more forgiving.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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