Oct. 17, 1999

My Son the Man

by Sharon Olds

Broadcast Date: SUNDAY: October 17, 1999

Poem: "My Son the Man" by Sharon Olds from The Wellspring published by Alfred A. Knopf.

It's the birthday of columnist Jimmy Breslin, born in Jamaica, New York (1930)—who, rather than stay detached from his stories, passionately involved himself in them, and said, "Rage is the only quality which has kept me, or anybody I have ever studied, writing columns for newspapers."

It's the birthday of playwright Arthur Miller, born in Harlem, New York (1915). By his own account, he "never read a book weightier than Tom Swift and the Rover Boys" until after high school, when he read The Brothers Karamazov. Shaped by the Depression and his father's business failure, he is best known for his play Death of a Salesman (1949). His other plays include The Crucible (1953), A View from the Bridge (1955), After the Fall (1964), and The Price (1968). "I'm the end of the line; absurd and appalling as it may seem, serious New York theater has died in my lifetime."

It's the birthday of novelist Nathanael West (Nathan Weinstein), born in New York City (1903)—who was preoccupied with a desperate sort of loneliness W.H. Auden called 'West's Disease.' In the 1930s, while working as the night manager of a New York hotel, he let his writer friends—James T. Farrell, Lillian Hellman, Dashiell Hammett, Edmund Wilson—have rooms for little or no charge. But he also steamed open guests' letters to contrast their real lives with their facades—and meanwhile wrote his novel Miss Lonelyhearts (1933). Later, in Hollywood, he wrote The Day of the Locust (1939), published a year before his death in a car crash, 37 years old.

It's the birthday of movie star Jean Arthur (Gladys Georgianna Greene), born in Plattsburg, New York (1900). She sparkled as a hard-boiled career woman with a marshmallow heart in such films as You Can't Take It With You (1938), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), and Foreign Affair (1948). Highly critical of her own performances, she refused to pose for cheesecake photos, rarely granted interviews, and was often suspended by Columbia Pictures for rejecting roles. At the peak of her career, she took stretches of time off to enroll in college courses. "All my life I've wanted to make enough money so I could stop and be a student for a while. The only real reason for living is doing what you want to do."

It's the birthday of pathologist Ernest William Goodpasture, born in Montgomery County, Tennessee (1886)—who devised a way of cultivating viruses and rickettsia [rih-KET-see-uh] (disease-causing bacteria) in fertile chicken eggs. As a result, vaccines were produced for smallpox, influenza, yellow fever, typhus, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever—illnesses caused by agents that were produced only in living tissue. He spent most of his life in his home state, doing research and teaching at the medical school of Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

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