The Greatest Mankiewicz

Joseph MankiewiczOn this day in 1847, the great inventor Thomas Edison was born. Okay, I said he was great, now I can get to the point. I really have a problem with him. He was brilliant when he was young, but eventually he became Edison Inc, and that was a bad thing. At that point, it wasn’t about literally bringing good things to light, it was about making as much money as possible. His fight with Westinghouse is particularly telling. Because Edison had all the patents for DC, he tried to discredit AC as a method of delivering power. If the government had fallen for this, we would have been screwed for decades. DC is a terrible way to deliver power, except over very shot distances. Another example involves the creation of Hollywood. If Edison had had his way, film never would have become the great art form it did. His patent did nothing but price filmmakers out of work. It is a great example of how innovation thrived despite the patent system, not because of it.

The great singer-songwriter Sheryl Crow is 52 today. My opinion of her went way down when she hooked up with Kid Rock. I figure he must be great in bed. At least, I hope so, because it can’t be his intelligence or talent that attracted her. Anyway, here she is doing her song “Home”:

Other birthdays: photographic pioneer Henry Fox Talbot (1800); Egyptologist Auguste Mariette (1821); great American physicist Josiah Willard Gibbs (1839); great portrait painter Ellen Day Hale (1855); Futurist painter Carlo Carra (1881); nuclear physicist Leo Szilard (1898); boxer Max Baer (1909); novelist Sidney Sheldon (1917); actor Eva Gabor (1919); sex researcher Virginia Johnson (1925); Ginger Grant on Gilligan’s Island, Tina Louise (80); actor Burt Reynolds (78); songwriter Gerry Goffin (75); and actor Jennifer Aniston (45).

The day, however, belongs to the great film director Joseph Mankiewicz who was born on this day in 1909. He was also a great screenwriter. He won the Academy Award as both writer and director twice for A Letter to Three Wives and All About Eve. Some of his other cinematic triumphs are Somewhere in the Night, The Ghost and Mrs Muir, and Sleuth. But he is also the man who took charge of the brewing catastrophe that was Cleopatra, and made it into a great film. I don’t think of Mankiewicz was a terribly innovative filmmaker. But he knew how to tell a story on film better than most. I greatly admire him. Here is a bit of his version of Julius Caesar:

Happy birthday Joseph Mankiewicz!

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