Apr. 7, 1998

The Little Ways That Encourage Good Fortune

by William Stafford


Today's Reading: "The Little Ways That Encourage Good Fortune" by William Stafford from THE WAY IT IS, published by Graywolf Press (1998).

Rodger's and Hammerstein's musical SOUTH PACIFIC opened on this day in 1949 on Broadway. There was such a buzz about the show during its out-of-town previews that ticket sales before opening night totaled nearly a half-million dollars a record back then. The show was Rodgers' idea: he'd read James Michener's short story collection, Tales of the South Pacific, and gotten Hammerstein interested in writing the libretto. Hammerstein lifted two unrelated stories from the book and devised a plot line to join them.

It's the birthday of DANIEL ELLSBERG, in Chicago, 1931, who became famous in 1971 for leaking the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times and Washington Post documents describing decades of secret U.S. involvement in Indochina. Ellsberg was a senior research associate at MIT's Center for International Studies and had been working on the study for a year and a half. At the beginning of the project he was an avid supporter of the Vietnam war, but by the time it was complete, he was opposed to it and felt the American public needed to know more of what as going on in Southeast Asia. In June 1971, the Times started publishing a series of articles on the top-secret documents; the Justice Department immediately hit the paper with a restraining order, but the Supreme Court declared that the government did not have the right to forbid publication. The Times resumed publication of the articles.

It's the birthday in 1915, Baltimore, of BILLIE HOLIDAY. She was born Eleanora Fagan and her childhood was basically miserable. Her father abandoned the family, and her mother went to New York to find work and left Billie behind in Baltimore with relatives. At the age of nine, she went to work scrubbing floors at a Baltimore brothel and at 16 she moved to New York and found work dancing in a Harlem nightclub. One night she was asked to sing a number, and later she remembered how the whole place suddenly fell quiet. She sang every night for tips and two years later got asked to make a record with clarinetist Benny Goodman. By the late 30s she was touring with Fletcher Henderson, Count Basie, and Artie Shaw. She started doing drugs and in the 1940s and 50s was in and out of rehab units and prisons several times. Once, in 1947, she served a nine-month stint at a West Virginia women's prison, and ten days later sold out Carnegie Hall.

It's the birthday in 1891 of OLE KIRK CHRISTIANSEN, the Danish toymaker. In 1932 he formed the toy company Lego, from the Danish words leg godt, which means play well.

It's the birthday of the author and clergyman, WILLIAM ELLERY CHANNING, born this day in Newport, Rhode Island, 1780. He was a preacher in Boston, and started off as a Congregationalist. He made friends with Emerson and Thoreau and his preaching began to strike many in Boston as too liberal to be called Christian. In 1815, another Boston clergyman attacked his views as "Unitarian," a label Channing reluctantly accepted, then later defended as "a rational and amiable system, against which no man's understanding, or conscience, or charity, or piety revolts." He had no intention of founding a new denomination, because he thought that a Unitarian system of beliefs would wind up being just as oppressive as any other, but in 1820 he formed a conference of liberal Congregational ministers, and five years later reorganized it as the American Unitarian Association the beginnings of the Unitarian Church.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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