May 18, 2000


by Thomas Lynch

Broadcast Date: THURSDAY: May 18, 2000

Poem: "Heavenward," by Thomas Lynch, from Still Life in Milford (W.W. Norton & Company).

On this day in 1944, Allied troops captured Monte Cassino, in Italy, after some of the fiercest fighting in the war. It was 50 miles northwest of Naples, 85 miles southeast of Rome. The Germans were hiding in a Benedictine abbey on top of the mountain; a massive air raid leveled the abbey, but the Germans continued to resist. Moroccan troops climbed nearly a mile in altitude to arrive behind the German position, and Polish troops attacked from the front.

Itís the birthday of composer Meredith Wilson, born in Mason City, Iowa (1902). He went to New York to play flute in John Philip Sousaís band (1921-23), then was principle flutist for the New York Philharmonic (1924-1929), then became a music director for radio and television. But heís best remembered for the hit show The Music Man (1957), for which he wrote not just the music, but also the book and lyrics. He said, "I didnít have to make anything up for The Music Man, all I had to do was remember Mason City."

Itís the birthday of Hollywood director Frank Capra, born in Palermo, Sicily (1897). His family came to America and settled in Los Angeles when he was six. He bluffed his way into his first silent movie job when he was 25, giving an aspiring producer the impression he was a director. He became a gag-writer for the Our Gang comedies, then made his pictures: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Itís a Wonderful Life, Meet John Doe, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, and many others.

Itís the birthday of philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell, born in Ravenscroft, Monmouthshire (1872). He won the Nobel Prize in Literature (1950) for his philosophical writings.

On this day in 1832, French novelist George Sand (Amandine-Aurore-Lucile-Dudevant) published her first novel, Indiana. Written after she had left her husband, taken a lover, and moved to Paris, Indiana made her an instant celebrity. Its heroine abandons an unhappy marriage and finds love.

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