Jan. 7, 2004

Desert Places

by Robert Frost


Poem: "Desert Places," by Robert Frost from The Poetry of Robert Frost (Henry Holt and Co.).

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of screenwriter and novelist William Peter Blatty, born in New York City (1928). He's best known for his horror tale The Exorcist (1971), but he didn't start out as a horror writer. One of his early works was the screenplay for A Shot in the Dark (1961), a farce starring Peter Sellers as the inept detective Inspector Closeau

It's the anniversary of the first motion picture ever made. On this day in 1894, Thomas Edison Studios filmed a comedian named Fred Ott sneezing.

It's the birthday of landscape painter Albert Bierstadt, born in Solingen, Germany (1830). He joined a survey team in the American western frontier in 1859 and sketched the magnificent scenery, including the Rocky Mountains, the Yosemite Valley, and the Merced River

It's the birthday of cartoonist and illustrator Charles Addams, born in Westfield, New Jersey (1912). Addams, the only child of a well-to-do family, began drawing in high school, copying his favorite comic strips, such as Krazy Kat. He attended three different colleges, each for only one year, and then took a job lettering, drawing, and retouching photos for Macfadden magazines for 15 dollars a week. By 1935, he had a contract with The New Yorker to draw cartoons. He also sold cartoons to Life, Collier's, and Cosmopolitan. The cartoon that first made him famous appeared in the January 14 issue of The New Yorker. It was a drawing of a woman skier whose tracks pass on either side of the tree behind her; an observer stares back in disbelief while the woman glides nonchalantly on. He eventually drew more than 1300 cartoons for the magazine.
1937 marked the first appearance of a cartoon that featured several members of a macabre group of people known as the Addams Family. At first, Addams drew only Morticia and Lurch, the family butler, who vaguely resembled Boris Karloff. Soon, he introduced other family members, including Wednesday, Pugsley, Grandmama, and Thing. His first book of cartoons, Drawn and Quartered, was published in 1942, and it was followed by many others, including Addams and Evil (1947) and Monster Rally (1950). In the early 1960s, a television producer approached Addams about doing a situation comedy based on his characters. The Addams Family television series was broadcast on ABC from September 1964 through September 1966, and the Charles Addams fan base expanded from thousands to millions.

It's the birthday of novelist, folklorist and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston, born in Notasulga, Alabama (1891). When she was two years old, her family moved to Eatonville, Florida, America's first incorporated all-black town. Her father was a carpenter and preacher who was elected mayor of their town. In 1920, she enrolled in Howard University and then attended Barnard College in New York City. While in New York, Hurston published the "Eatonville Anthology," a series of fourteen brief sketches, some only two paragraphs long, including glimpses of a woman beggar, an incorrigible dog, a backwards farmer, the greatest liar in the village, and a cheating husband. Her best known work, Their Eyes Were Watching God, was written in just seven weeks and published in 1937. She wrote her autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road, in 1942. For a time, she was the most prolific and most famous black woman writer in America, but interest in her work waned in the 1950s. She worked at odd jobs for about ten years, writing a few magazine articles every now and then. Her death in 1960 in a welfare home went largely unnoticed, and she was buried in an unmarked grave.

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