Many happy birthdays to a range of historical and cultural notables!!
1638: Louis XIV
The great empire-builder applied his zeal to the foundations laid by Cardinal Richelieu. In the end, zeal undid much of his work but he still left a mighty legacy – he could little foresee on his 1715 deathbed that his great regal empire would last well under a century.
Louis to the Duc d’Orléans on his deathbed: “‘You are about to see one King in his tomb and another in his cradle. Always cherish the memory of the first and the interests of the second.’ He told him the identity of the Man in the Iron Mask – which was only known by two other people after them, Louis XV and Louis XVI, who took the secret to the scaffold with him.” (Nancy Mitford, The Sun King).
1651: William Dampier
Exhausted polymath Dampier did it all, and usually first – starting life as a pirate, he circumnavigated the earth three times and discovered Australia for the English eight decades before Cook. His books on hydrography and exploration were leading texts of their time, and inspired the epic voyager novels of Defoe and Swift.
1774: Caspar David Friedrich
The Edgar Allan Poe of landscape painting, Friedrich suffered his romanticism to morph into mental illness. But he left a stunning collection of eerie, luminous landscapes that emblematise the best of romanticism.
1791: Giacomo Meyerbeer
He promoted Wagner (thanklessly – the Maestro nastily called him a pickpocket even though Wagner was influenced in part by him). Out of fashion now, his operas Robert le Diable, Les Huguenots and The Prophet were huge hits in their day,
1902: Darryl F. Zanuck
The macho movie mogul produced some excellent films, with strong social themes – The Jazz Singer (1927), Little Caesar (1931), I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang (1932), The Grapes of Wrath (1940), Laura (1944), My Darling Clementine (1946), Gentleman’s Agreement (1947), The Snake Pit (1948), Twelve O’clock High (1950), The Gunfighter (1950), All About Eve (1950) – and he also exploded some multi-megaton bombs – Noah’s Ark (1929), Born to be Bad (1934), The Egyptian (1954), Hello-Goodbye (1970) and Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970) but he did it with a sense of style that could only come from the golden years of Hollywood.
1905: Arthur Koestler
The wily Hungarian wrote books that paralleled and occasionally pre-dated Orwell in their prescience. “Your testimony at the trial will be the last service you can do the Party.” – Darkness at Noon (1940).
1929: Bob Newhart
Our favourite Newhart routine was the advertising executive talking to Sir Walter Raleigh about the lack of marketing potential for cigarettes and coffee.
1937: William Devane
Devane had a neat line in silken sinister types, such as in Family Plot (1976) and Payback (1999).
1939: George Lazenby
One of many James Bonds sourced from the various corners of the Commonwealth, Lazenby’s best film choice was in the seminal hack-chop-suey movie, The Man From Hong Kong (1975).
1942: Werner Herzog
Werner is weird. But weird has real value in the movies: check out Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972), The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (1974), Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979) and the gloriously mad Fitzcarraldo (1982) in which the title character brings grand opera to the Andes.
1945: Al Stewart
Folk-pop trouper Stewart has pumped out heaps of records over time but he struck gold with….
…Year of the Cat (1976):
“You go strolling through the crowd like Peter Lorre contemplating a crime...”
1946: Freddie Mercury
How perfect that Freddie was born somewhere as exotic as Zanzibar. His dreadful over-bite didn’t stop his great pop voice soaring over the top of Queen’s soaring guitars, in songs like Bohemian Rhapsody, Somebody to Love, Now I’m Here, You’re My Best Friend, We Will Rock You, and…
Killer Queen (1974):
“To avoid complications, she never kept the same address,
In conversation, she spoke just like a baroness…”
1951: Michael Keaton
Keaton chews scenery, but he can do so in a way that keeps you watching and keeps the popcorn from billowing out of the stomach. His turns are not subtle but compelling in Beetlejuice (1988), Pacific Heights (1990), Much Ado About Nothing (1993), Jackie Brown (1997), The Founder (2016) and Birdman (2014).
Many happy Returns to all.