Friday

Mar. 11, 2011

On first seeing it, I was repelled
by the idea of eating something so
exotic looking and sinister,

having read Jean Paul Sartre's line
about crustaceans having a dubious
consciousness. But I was in New York, and

the young man I had met there tucked
my napkin under my chin and
handed me a nutcracker for the shell.

I was from Minnesota, raised on
lakes and brook trout. I, too, was
uncooked and formless, like the creatures

who take on the shape of their environment
My first taste was delicious, but the
third was even better and by

that time I was a real New York girl
who wore skinny black dresses and false eyelashes,
able to handle myself with any

crustacean, dubious consciousness or not.

"Lobster" by June Beisch, from Fatherless Woman. © Cape Cod Literary Press, 2004. Reprinted with permission. (buy at Amazon.com now)

On this day in 1702, Elizabeth Mallet began publishing the Daily Courant, England's first daily national newspaper. She set up shop on Fleet Street in London. Pub-lined Fleet Street is the main road between London's financial district and its government center. It was an ideal newsgathering spot. For the next three centuries, Fleet Street served as a headquarters for England's journalists.

Most English papers of the time focused on local events. The Daily Courant, however, was devoted to foreign news. It was a simple one-page sheet with two columns of text. Mallet introduced her newspaper by saying that she'd started it "to spare the public half the impertinences which the ordinary papers contain."

In print, Mallet pretended to be a man. She signed her name E. Mallet and referred to herself in masculine terms. Historians believe she hid her sex because she wanted readers to take her paper seriously. For her part, Mallet took her readers quite seriously. She refused to editorialize. In the first issue of the Daily Courant, Mallet wrote that the editor would not "take it upon himself to give any Comments or Conjectures of his own, supposing other People to have Sense enough to make Reflections for themselves."

It's the birthday of media tycoon Rupert Murdoch. He was born Keith Rupert Murdoch in 1931 to Elisabeth and Keith Murdoch of Melbourne, Australia. The elder Murdoch was a war correspondent and publisher. Upon his father's death in 1952, Rupert inherited two small, struggling Australian newspapers.

Murdoch revived these papers by cranking up their coverage of sex and scandal. Then he bought several more Australian newspapers and did the same. Through the '60s, he perfected a formula for boosting circulation — and profits. His papers spotlighted not only sex and scandal, but also crime, sports, and human interest. They carried sensational headlines and plenty of conservative editorializing.

In 1969, Murdoch extended his reach overseas. Within five years, he'd bought one American and two British newspapers. In the decades since, he has bought — and occasionally sold — dozens of newspapers and magazines, film and television companies, Internet media outlets, and book publishing firms.

Today Murdoch's empire spans four continents. He's the chief executive of News Corporation, one of the world's biggest media companies. His aggressive business tactics and unvarnished politics make him a lightning rod for both admiration and loathing.

Murdoch's British acquisitions triggered the demise of London's Fleet Street. For 300 years, the road had been home to Britain's press. Its culture was equal parts drunken misbehavior and intellectual camaraderie. But each time Murdoch bought a London newspaper, he moved it. All of London's major newsrooms followed suit, relocating to more respectable — and far less interesting — addresses.

In the U.S., Murdoch is best known as the owner of Fox Broadcasting Company and The Wall Street Journal. During negotiations to buy the latter in 2007, dismayed members of the press tore him to pieces. Afterward Murdoch complained to reporters, "I spent the better part of the past three months enduring criticism that is normally leveled at some sort of genocidal tyrant."

It's also the birthday of newsman Sam Donaldson (books by this author). He was born in El Paso, Texas, in 1934. He grew up across the state line in New Mexico. His father, Samuel, a cotton and dairy farmer, died before Sam's birth. His mother, Chloe, worked as a schoolteacher and kept the farm afloat with help from her two sons.

The younger Sam hated farming. He got into radio broadcasting soon after enrolling at Texas Western College. After earning a degree in telecommunications, he served three years as an artillery officer in the U.S. Army.

He landed his first TV announcing job in Dallas in 1960. Restless, he left it a year later to seek his fortune in New York City. After several poverty-stricken years, he finally hit pay dirt. In 1967, he landed a job at ABC News. He stayed with ABC until he retired in 2009. He served as a White House correspondent and anchored several national news programs.

During his four decades in TV news, Donaldson became famous for his booming voice. He easily drowned out other reporters in the White House briefing room. TV viewers could hear him even over the racket of the presidential helicopter.

Donaldson also earned a reputation as an aggressive interviewer. He irritated many politicians and audience members. One TV viewer mailed Donaldson a letter saying, "Until today I thought of you as nothing more than a loud-mouthed ignoramus. But today ... I realized you had other despicable qualities as well." Donaldson hung it on his door and called it "one of the fondest letters that I ever received."

In his 1987 memoir, Hold On, Mr. President!, Donaldson wrote: "I try to remember two things: First, if you don't ask, you don't find out; and second, the questions don't do the damage. Only the answers do."

On this day in 1927, Samuel "Roxy" Rothafel opened the Roxy Theatre near Times Square in New York City. The Roxy was more than just a movie theater. It claimed to be the Cathedral of the Motion Picture.

The Roxy had reason to brag. It was the biggest, grandest movie theater ever built. Its elegant auditorium seated nearly 6,000 people. It mounted shows on a vast stage flanked by three organs and a rising orchestra pit. The building also boasted a cavernous rotunda, a radio broadcasting studio, dozens of dressing and rehearsal rooms, a laundry, a hair salon, a hospital, a cafeteria, a gym, a nap room, a library, and a menagerie for show animals. The Roxy employed 300 people.

A typical program at the Roxy was an entertainment extravaganza. First onstage were the ballet corps or the Roxyettes, a precision dance line that later morphed into the Rockettes. A newsreel followed. Next, the Roxy's chorus sang. Then the organs rose from the pit, and organists entertained the crowd. The movie rolled last. The orchestra accompanied everything — including the film, if it was a silent one.

A cartoon published shortly after the Roxy's opening shows an awestruck child standing in the lobby with her mother. The child asks, "Does God live here?"

The Roxy closed in 1960. It was demolished so the hotel next door could build a parking garage.

It's the birthday of children's book author and illustrator Ezra Jack Keats, born Jacob Ezra Katz (1916) in New York City. He was the third child of Benjamin and Augusta Katz, Jewish immigrants from Warsaw, Poland. They raised their family in a tough neighborhood. Benjamin struggled to make a living as a waiter in Greenwich Village.

Keats is famous for bringing the streets of New York to life for his young readers. He was one of the first mainstream children's book authors to use urban settings for his stories. He was the first to feature black children as main characters. His children's books have won many honors.

Keats never meant to be a children's author or illustrator. He wanted to be a fine artist. He showed talent even as a young child. But Benjamin had seen too many starving artists in Greenwich Village, so he urged his son to develop more practical skills.

Keats just couldn't give up painting and drawing. He won three scholarships to art school. Unfortunately, he couldn't use them. His dad died in 1935, so Keats had to help support his family. He did a variety of odd jobs, such as loading melons onto trucks. In 1937, he landed a job as a muralist for the Works Progress Administration. After that, he designed camouflage for the U.S. Army, illustrated comic books and magazines, and created book covers for adult novels.

One day a children's book editor spotted Keats's work in a bookstore. She invited him to illustrate Jubilant for Sure by Elizabeth Hubbard Lansing (1954). Keats spent several years illustrating children's books for other authors. The rigid structure and lack of diversity in these books bothered Ezra, so he tried writing one of his own. That book was The Snowy Day (1962). It tells the story of Peter, a little black boy who explores his inner-city neighborhood after a snowfall. It won the Caldecott medal — and the love of millions of children.

Afterward, in a Milwaukee Journal article, Keats pondered the appeal of Peter: "I think that children look at Peter first of all as a child, who is like themselves in some ways whether they are boy or girl, black, brown or white, fat or skinny or what."

Today is Johnny Appleseed Day. On this day, many communities honor the legendary wanderer who planted apple trees on the American frontier in the early 1800s. Johnny Appleseed was a real person. His name was John Chapman. After his death, writers embroidered his deeds until he became a folk hero.

John Chapman was born in 1774 in Leominster, Massachusetts. Historians know little about his childhood. They do know that he learned about apple growing as a young man, while working for a neighbor who owned an apple orchard.

Around 1797, Chapman moved west. He gathered sacks full of apple seeds from cider mills in settled areas. Then he headed for the frontier, keeping just ahead of westbound pioneers. He begged, borrowed, bought, or rented land near creeks and rivers, then planted seeds there. He tended the seedlings until settlers arrived. Then he sold his seedlings or orchards and moved on. He kept this up for nearly 50 years. He started orchards in western New York and Pennsylvania as well as Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, and Illinois.

Chapman spread not only apples, but also the teachings of a small Christian sect called the New Church. He opposed violence of all kinds. He got along well with Native Americans. He was a vegetarian. He lived frugally. He was extremely thin, went barefoot most of the time, and wore only discarded clothing.

Historians aren't sure exactly when Chapman died. It happened sometime in March 1845 in Fort Wayne, Indiana. His obituary in the March 22, 1845, Fort Wayne Sentinel reads in part: "The deceased was well-known throughout this region by his eccentricity, and strange garb. He is supposed to have considerable property, yet denied himself [...] the common necessities of life [...] He submitted to every privation with cheerfulness [...] believing that in so doing he was securing snug quarters hereafter."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®

 









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