On this day in 1874, the great writer Gertrude Stein was born. Her work is difficult, but playful. I’ve often thought that she isn’t as big a literary star as, say, Joyce because she was a woman. On the other hand, her fascist sympathies doubtless don’t help. She’s still interesting to read, but I find it tiring as I do most of the avant-garde writers. You know the drill: it’s important but doesn’t really age well. But I still enjoy listening to Four Saints in Three Acts.
Norman Rockwell was born in 1894. I admire the wit of his work. He strikes me as the kind of guy parents like to keep away from their children because he would inspire them to be devilish. Of course, being a representational artists in the 20th century has tended to make people dismiss him. And now he’s seen as totally inoffensive. But I think we could use Rockwell today. Our society has become obsessed with celebrities from Justin Bieber to Jesus Christ. And yes, Rockwell was sentimental at times. But he wasn’t romantic—he celebrated actual humans—you know, people who work for a living. It’s amazing what a radical concept that’s become.
Other birthdays: composer Felix Mendelssohn (1809); newspaper editor Horace Greeley (1811); bank robber Pretty Boy Floyd (1904); actor Robert Earl Jones (1911); actor Blythe Danner (71); the least annoying The Kinks brother Dave Davies (67); actor Nathan Lane (58); situational economist Greg Mankiw (56); and actor Maura Tierney (49).
The day, however, belongs to one of the great stand-up comedians of my youth Shelley Berman who is 89 today. He was basically just a storyteller. Much of his work doesn’t especially have punchlines. He just has an amusing way of looking at the world. His buttermilk routine is more typical of his work. But here he is doing one of his classic telephone routines, which is brilliant and as funny as ever:
Happy birthday Shelley Berman!