Oct. 10, 2000

Why English is So Hard

by Anonymous

Broadcast date: TUESDAY, 10 October 2000

Poem: "Why English is So Hard," Anonymous.

On this date in 1935, George Gershwin's opera Porgy and Bess received its premier on Broadway, with Todd Duncan in the role of Porgy and Anne Wiggins Brown as Bess.

It's the birthday of British playwright and director Harold Pinter, born in Hackney, a suburb of London, England, in 1930. Pinter began his career as an actor, but turned to writing for the stage with The Room, in 1957. His first major play, The Birthday Party (1958), was poorly received when first produced, but he went on to receive acclaim for plays -- often described as "comedies of menace" -- such as The Homecoming., Old Times and Betrayal.

It's the birthday of jazz pianist and composer Thelonius Monk, born in Rocky Mount, North Carolina (1917). He moved to New York City in 1939, and became the house pianist at Minton's Club in Harlem. It was there that he came into contact with Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and other prominent figures in the modern jazz movement known as bebop.

It's the birthday of reproductive biologist Min-Chueh Chang, born in T'ai-yüan, China in 1908. Chang is best known for developing an oral contraceptive, the birth control pill. Chang worked with American endocrinologist Gregory Goodwin Pincus and gynecologist John Rock to develop a pill which combined the hormones estrogen and progesterone to prevent ovulation. The birth control pill was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1960. Chang also did ground-breaking work on in-vitro fertilization, which led to the birth of the first test tube baby in 1978.

It's the birthday of the Indian novelist R.K. Narayan, born in Madras, India in 1908. The most acclaimed Indian author of his generation, Narayan is best known for a series of novels set in the fictional Indian territory of Malgudi, beginning with his first novel Swami and Friends, published in 1935. Narayan was championed by the novelist Graham Greene, whose support enabled his novels to be published in England. In 1958, his novel The Guide won Narayan the National Prize of the Indian Literary Academy.

On this date in 1868, John Wesley Hyatt received a patent for an improved billiard ball. Before Hyatt's invention, billiard balls were most often made of elephant-tusk ivory. Hyatt's ball was composed of a mixture of nitrocellulose, camphor, and alcohol which produced a thermoplastic, a substance which was soft when heated and could be easily molded. Hyatt's discovery not only produced a new billiard ball, it also marked the beginning of the plastics industry.

It's the birthday of Italian opera composer Giuseppi Verdi, born near Busseto, Italy, in 1813. His first opera, Oberto, was produced in 1839, at La Scala. After a series of family tragedies, including the death of his first wife in 1840, he considered giving up composition, but was induced by friends to write the opera Nabucco, which was a resounding success at its premier. Verdi produced three of his most popular operas in quick succession: Rigoletto (1851), and Il Trovatore and La Traviata (both in 1853). Verdi's music became so popular in his native Italy that it was common to hear it on the streets, being ground out of barrel organs.

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