The Sad Short Life of Veronica Lake

Veronica LakeOn this day in the 18th century, two composer fathers were born. The first is Leopold Mozart who was born in 1719. If you’ve ever seen the movie Amadeus, then you probably think that he was a relatively bad father. The truth is different. He was a terrible father. The second is Johann van Beethoven. He was a terrible father in a different way: as an abusive drunk. I suppose that Malcolm Gladwell would tell us that is why their sons were so great. He’s wrong.

The painter Claude Monet was born in 1840. I don’t doubt his great talent and importance. In fact, I see it. But the combination of over exposure and the generations of hacks who have painted just like him really makes appreciating his work hard. So regardless of its quality, it always seems kind of like motel room art.

The great American composer Aaron Copland was born in 1900. I’m not a big fan of his, but I appreciate his work. He made the best use of twelve-tone of any composer I’m aware of, realizing early its limits. Later he pretty much completely abandoned it. Mostly though, his music always has character. Here is Appalachian Spring, a suite he wrote based upon a ballet he had written. It is very charming. I really recommend listening to these nice young Australians from Sydney Camerata Chamber Orchestra perform the hell of it at (appropriately) a church:

When people ask me to name the most important person of my childhood, the answer is clear: Sherwood Schwartz. Why? Because he created the two iconic television shows of my youth: Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Bunch. Okay, that was hyperbola. But still, that’s quite a record. He was also a longtime comedy writer. And he lived to be 94 and spent almost 70 years married to the same woman. I admire that even if I can’t quite fathom it.

Other birthdays: steamboat inventor Robert Fulton (1765); the deeply troubled and dangerous politician and morphine addict Joseph McCarthy (1908); actor Brian Keith (1921); actor McLean Stevenson (1927); Software developer Peter Norton (70); humorist P J O’Rourke (66); and singer-songwriter Brendan Benson (43).

The day, however, belongs to the actress Veronica Lake who was born on this day in 1922. The truth is that I’ve never been a fan of hers. I liked her in Sullivan’s Travels and the Alan Ladd films. But then I found out about her life. She was apparently very difficult to work with and by the late-1940s, this led to the end of her career in Hollywood. During the later part of her career, she became an alcoholic. By 1962, she had been reduced to working as a barmaid in a New York Hotel. When this became public, jobs came back and her career had a bit of a renaissance, but not in Hollywood. Regardless, the best part of her story is that in 1969, she published an autobiography. With the proceeds of that, she starred in and produced a low-budget horror film, Flesh Feast. A seeker to the end, she died just 3 years later at the age of 50.

Happy birthday Veronica Lake!

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