The great French Baroque painter Hyacinthe Rigaud was born on this day in 1659. He is one of the best painters of that era. You really should check him out. The anti-Hegel, philosopher Immanuel Hermann Fichte was born in 1796. See if you don’t think he looked a lot like Denholm Elliott. The great satirical novelist and write of Vanity Fair, William Makepeace Thackeray was born in 1811. The great physicist Hendrik Lorentz was born in 1853. Gangster Machine Gun Kelly was born in 1895. He is notable because he lived to the ripe old age of 59. It helps to be caught. But just to show that in many ways, the universe evens out, the same year Kelly was born, so was one of the 20th century’s greatest ballerinas, Olga Spessivtseva. There is only one video of her dancing; it isn’t great, but it is worth watching:
The playwright Clifford Odets was born in 1906. He is perhaps best known for his first play, Waiting for Lefty. Overall, he’s known for his socially conscious Great Depression era plays. That was when a financial collapse actually caused the country to think about what had happened. Today, it is more like Sarah Palin said: it’s a hopey changey thing. The great theatrical producer and damned good actor Hume Cronyn was born in 1911. Comedian Red Skelton was born in 1913. His humor is far too broad for me now, but when I was a kid, I thought he was hysterical. In fact, I saw him when I was a kid and he was very much like this on stage:
And writer Hunter S. Thompson was born in 1937.
Astronaut John Glenn is 92 today. Reuben, Reuben director Robert Ellis Miller is 81. Kitschy science fiction film (e.g. Total Recall) director Paul Verhoeven is 75. Steve Forbes is having a birthday today, but who cares? Actor Elizabeth McGovern is 52. And actor Vin Diesel is 46.
The day, however, belongs to Nelson Mandela who is 95 today and apparently out of intensive care. What I find so remarkable about him is our perceptions of him. There is a good article on this in the current hard copy edition of The Nation—as it applies to South Africa. But it is important to remember that here in the west, he was loudly labeled a terrorist by those great defenders of freedom Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. But now, of course, he is the “good negro.” It is just the same old conservative idea: any man who demands his rights is a terrorist. Regardless, Mandela was never a terrorist. He was just a man who made the lives of the power elite harder. And that’s why he’s a great man.
Happy birthday Nelson Mandela!