Feb. 27, 1998

Rebecca, Who Slammed Doors for Fun, and Perished Miserably

by Hilaire Belloc


Today's Reading: "Rebecca, Who Slammed Doors and Perished" by Hilaire Belloc from CAUTIONARY VERSES, published by Alfred A. Knopf.

It's the birthday in 1902 of JOHN STEINBECK, in Salinas, California - author of The Grapes of Wrath (1939) and Of Mice and Men (1937). He tried his hand at painting, chemistry, fruit picking and a dozen other jobs before making it as a writer. He started off as a reporter for a paper in New York, but got fired for editorializing and making up details instead of sticking to the facts. His first three books were failures, but his fourth - Tortilla Flats in 1935 - finally got his career underway.

It's the birthday in Philadelphia, 1897, of contralto MARIAN ANDERSON, who grew up singing in the First Union Baptist Church in South Philadelphia. When she was a teenager she tried to get into music school but was rejected because she was black; she never applied to any other school, just hit the road singing recitals and concerts wherever she could. She moved to Europe in the 30s and sang in all the major cities there, and Toscanini found her and said that a voice like hers comes along only once in a hundred years. In 1955, near the end of her career when she broke the color barrier at the Met in New York, singing Verdi's "A Masked Ball." She described racism as being "like a hair across your cheek: You can't see it, you can't find it with your fingers, but you keep brushing at it because the feel of it is irritating."

It's the birthday of HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW, in 1807, Portland, Maine. He was a college senior when he wrote to his father, "I most eagerly aspire after future eminence in literature." Thirty years later he was getting as much as $3,000 for his poems - pieces like "The Song of Hiawatha," "The Courtship of Miles Standish" and "Paul Revere's Ride." He was the first poet to make a living off of royalties. His poems were translated into at least 20 languages by the time he died in 1882. Walt Whitman called him, "the poet of the mellow twilight of the past, the poet of all sympathetic gentleness, and the universal poet of young people."

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