Wishing for Better Than Benny Hill

Benny HillI had gotten rather spoiled the last few days with some pretty good birthdays to choose from. In fact, the great abundance of them made me give short shrift to people I normally would have spent more time on. But that’s why I’m the best at exactly what I do.

In 1820, Joseph Wolf was born. He was a great illustrator who specialized in natural history. In fact, by the middle of his life, he was the preferred illustrator of such luminaries Alfred Russel Wallace and Henry Walter Bates. His work is great and it makes me long for the days before photography, because of it idealized the animals. In field guides, I think that can be helpful. Regardless, check out his work.

Henri Duparc was born in 1848. He was a French composer of the late Romantic period. But we really ought to have a better name for that period, because it doesn’t sound romantic to me at all. It sounds transitional. I think you can see this in the following performance of L’Invitation au voyage, which is one of his earliest works:

Karl Wallenda was born in 1905. He was the founder of The Flying Wallendas. What I find fascinating about him is his death. At the age of 73, he was doing a wire walk across two ten story towers in Puerto Rico. But because of a screw-up in the set-up of the wire he fell to his death. I am fascinated what people think as they fall to their deaths. And I cannot read about hire wire acts without squirming, so I will move on.

Other birthdays: Revolutionary War hero and furniture maker brand name Ethan Allen (1738); Confederate general, who was only 39 when he died, Stonewall Jackson (1824); number theorist Ivan Mikheevich Pervushin (1827); co-founder and first executive director of the ACLU, Roger Nash Baldwin (1884); fashion designer Christian Dior (1905); actor Telly Savalas (1922); great actor Paul Scofield (1922); actor Steve Reeves (1926); singer-songwriter Richie Havens (1941); singer-songwriter Mac Davis (72); singer-songwriter Billy Ocean (64); sculptor Jeff Koons (59); actor Robby Benson (58); actor Geena Davis (58); and rapper Jam Master Jay (1965).

The day, however, belongs to the comedian Benny Hill who was born on this day in 1924. I know: he is probably not your favorite comedian. But there is no doubt that he was a genius. If you get past all the young models in bikinis, what you find is very well structured—and at times hilarious—comedy. The best example of this is, “Ye Old Wishing Well.” This is an example of perfect comedy writing:

Happy birthday Benny Hill!

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