Isabelle Eberhardt’s Worthwhile Life

Isabelle EberhardtOn this day in the early part of the 20th century, we saw three fine actors born. The first is Kathleen Freeman who was born in 1919. She was a character actor over five decades known for her acerbic roles. I’m sure you’ve seen her countless times. She was, for example, in 11 Jerry Lewis films where she was his foil. She was also in Support Your Local Sheriff. And, most of all, she played General Burkhalter’s sister in Hogan’s Heroes. She was always great, spicing up anything she was in.

Our second actor is Hal Holbrook who is 89 today. About a decade ago, I dragged my wife to see him in Mark Twain Tonight. I knew it from my childhood. Then as now, I think there is little that can compare to a great actor on stage all alone. But she had no idea what to expect and was high skeptical. Of course, she loved it. How can anyone not? He’s done much else of note. But I don’t think this part of his career gets enough attention. So here is seven minutes of him doing Twain:

And the third actor is Alan Bates who was born in 1934. He had a long and varied career. But I most remember him for two of his later films. First there is Claudius in Zeffirelli’s Hamlet. And then there is his fantastic performance as Jennings, the alcoholic butler, in Gosford Park. I wish Bates had lived longer.

Other birthdays: astronomer Tobias Mayer (1723); stethoscope inventor Rene Laennec (1781); the man they named the line after, Andre Maginot (1877); evolutionary biologist Ronald Fisher (1890); mathematician Abraham Fraenkel (1891); activist Huey Newton (1942); actor Rene Russo (60); if I were a southerner, a comedian who would embarrass me, Larry the Cable Guy (51); basketball player Michael Jordan (51); hack film director Michael Bay (49); and actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt (33).

The day, however, belongs to the writer and activist Isabelle Eberhardt who was born on this day in 1877. She lived much of her adult like in Algeria during the French occupation. And she was often in conflict with it as she worked to help the native people. I wrote about her last year with regard to a biopic about her, Isabelle Eberhardt. My initial assessment of her has only grown stronger the more I’ve learned. As I wrote then:

The film ends with Eberhardt’s death due to a flash flood that destroys her home. Right before the walls crumble, she says, “I want to live!” It is a movie cliche, of course. But in the context of her life, it is a fitting epithet of her. Because there is little doubt that in her 27 years, she lived a great deal more than those of us pushing twice that age.

Happy birthday Isabelle Eberhardt!

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