Sep. 20, 2000

Eleanor's Letters

by Donald Hall

Broadcast date: WEDNESDAY, 20 September 2000

"Eleanor's Letters," by Donald Hall, from Old and New Poems (Ticknor and Fields).

It's the birthday of actress Sophia Loren, born Sofia Scicolone in Rome (1934). Growing up poor in post-war Naples, she was nicknamed "Stechetto"--the Stick-- for being skinny. When she was 15, she entered a beauty contest whose judges included film producer Carlo Ponti. Ponti sent her to drama coaches, put her in films, and then, when she was 23, married her. Loren won an Oscar in 1961 for the film Two Women, playing the devoted mother of a teenaged girl in wartime Italy.

It's the birthday of poet Donald Hall, born in New Haven, Connecticut (1928)--the Poet Laureate of New Hampshire, where he lives on Eagle Pond Farm, bought by his great-grandfather in 1865. His many poetry collections include Exiles and Marriages (1955), The Museum of Clear Ideas (1993), and Without (1998), poems written to and for his wife, poet Jane Kenyon, who died in 1995.

It's the birthday of English poet Stevie Smith (Florence Margaret Smith), born in Hull, Yorkshire (1902). She wrote novels and produced many comic drawings, but is remembered most for her poetry.

It's the birthday of the editor Maxwell Perkins, born in New York City (1884). In 1920 he persuaded his fellow editors at Scribners to publish F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel This Side of Paradise. After its success, Perkins overcame similar resistance in publishing Ring Lardner and Ernest Hemingway--but his greatest gamble was on Thomas Wolfe, whose gargantuan typescript for Look Homeward, Angel (enough paper to fill two cardboard cartons) had been rejected by other houses for being hopelessly overwritten.

It's the birthday of muckraking novelist Upton Sinclair, born in Baltimore (1878). Of the more than 90 books he produced, The Jungle (1906) was his most popular. He hoped it would create sympathy for exploited immigrant workers in Chicago's meat-packing industry; instead, The Jungle aroused widespread anger at the impurities in processed meats, and led to passage of federal food-inspection laws but did little to help workers. He commented, "I aimed at the public's heart and by accident I hit it in the stomach."

September 20th was the first day of the financial panic of 1873. It was set off by the failure of Jay Cooke and Company, which had sunk money into the Northern Pacific Railroad. The panic that followed forced the New York Stock Exchange to close for the first time in its history, and brought on a slump that lasted 6 years.

On this day in 1580, Sir Francis Drake made landfall in Plymouth, England, the first captain to have sailed around the world. On his way home, he captured tons of treasure from Spanish galleons in the Americas. Spain considered Drake to be a pirate, but to the English he was a hero. He had departed three years earlier with five small ships; the Golden Hind was the only one to make it through the Straits of Magellan and reach the Pacific.

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