On this day in 1884 the great filmmaker Robert J Flaherty was born. He is best known for making the first kinda-sorta first feature length documentary, Nanook of the North. I get kind of tired of people claiming that it isn’t a documentary. It is clearly the film from which grew the rich documentary ecosystem we have today. I also think this attitude reflects a naivete regarding just how real are today’s documentaries. The reality is always at least distorted. The question is whether what is presented is truthful and I think that Nanook is. The full film is available online. It is well worth checking out. Flaherty went on to have an interesting and often controversial work life. Check out anything you come upon.
Anna Mae Hays is 94 today. She was the first female general in the United States military, having served in World War II and the Korean War. From 1967 until her retirement, she was chief of the Army Nurse Corps. She retired shortly after receiving the rank of general. This was also true of Elizabeth Hoisington, the second woman to reach that rank. I don’t doubt that these women deserved the rank. I suspect they deserved the rank ten years earlier. But giving out the rank to woman about to retire was probably the army trying to ease into the modern world. No one would scream too loudly, given they were retiring. And then the army could move on to giving the rank when it was deserved. Anyway, Hays and Hoisington were both trailblazers.
The excellent British film director John Schlesinger was born in 1926. He directed a wide variety of films such as Far From the Madding Crowd, Marathon Man, and the unfairly maligned Honky Tonk Freeway. But he is best remembered for Midnight Cowboy. It is essentially Waiting for Godot in New York. In the following ending to the film, see if you don’t see what I mean with regard to the interdependence of the characters. And when Joe Buck puts his arm around Ratso at the end, it still kills me.
Other birthdays: Japanese painter Kano Eitoku (1543); ventriloquist Edgar Bergen (1903); actor Hugh Beaumont (1909); songwriter Sonny Bono (1935); screenwriter Vincent Ward (58); actor Ice-T (56); tennis player John McEnroe (55); and screenwriter Eric Red (53).
The day, however, belongs to the illustrator Pamela Colman Smith who was born on this day in 1878. She was closely associated with photographer Alfred Stieglitz who felt her work had a synaesthetic (multi-sensory) sensibility. She was also friends with poet William Butler Yeats, for whom she illustrated some books. But she is best know for the Waite-Smith tarot cards. Arthur Edward Waite wrote the booklet that went along with the cards, but the cards themselves are all Smith’s. You have doubtless seen them. Pretty much all tarot cards either use her designs, or are recreations of her designs. I remember them from my childhood. (Because I was raised by Satanists!) They are wonderful. Here are some samples:
Happy birthday Pamela Colman Smith!