Jul. 5, 1999

Complainin' Jack

by Shel Silverstein

Broadcast Date: MONDAY: July 5, 1999

Poem: "Complainin' Jack," by Shel Silverstein, from Falling Up (HarperCollins).

In 1965 on this day, bel canto soprano Maria Callas gave her last opera performance, singing Tosca at Covent Garden in London. She was 41.

On this day in 1945, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, having led Britain through the darkest days of World War Two, was soundly defeated in the general election. His Tory Party won 213 seats in the election; the Labor Party, led by Clement Attlee, won nearly twice as many—393 seats.

Today is the birthday of dancer and choreographer Eliot Feld, born in Brooklyn (1942)—who danced in the New York City Ballet's Nutcracker, and in both the Broadway and film versions of West Side Story. He was the founder of the American Ballet Company, later renamed the Eliot Feld Ballet.

It's the birthday of avant-garde poet, playwright, and film director Jean Cocteau, born in Maisons-Laffitte, near Paris (1889), best known for his films The Blood of the Poet (1932) and The Beauty and the Beast (1945).

On this day in 1880, George Bernard Shaw, a few weeks shy of 24, quit his job at the Edison Telephone Company in London to become a writer.

Today is the birthday of harpsichord virtuoso Wanda Landowska, born in Warsaw (1879) who, at the age of 70, recorded the complete preludes and fugues of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier.

It's the birthday of astronomer and archaeologist Andrew Ellicott Douglass, born in Windsor, Vermont (1867), who established the principles of dendrochronology—the analysis of tree rings to date and interpret events of the past. He theorized that variations in the width of tree rings correspond to sunspot activity.

It's the birthday of world class hoax artist and circus impresario P. T. Barnum, born in Bethel, Connecticut (1810), who took up the circus business only in his sixties after a tireless career of promoting everything from fake freaks—such as the "Feejee Mermaid," her purportedly human head topping the finned body of a fish, to a 25-inch-tall midget he dubbed "General Tom Thumb." At 81, on his deathbed, he persuaded a New York newspaper to print his obituary so he could enjoy it before he died.

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