Nov. 18, 2004


by Irene McKinney

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Poem: "Fame" by Irene McKinney, from Vivid Companion © Vandalia Press. Reprinted with permission.


That I would become known;
that someone would know me.
I would recognized, and not
pitiable; and I would remain
as strong as I was, if not stronger,
and overcome my circumstances
through sheer will, and that
others younger or less talented
would not become known,
or at least not until I was.
Then, that recognition would
reward me for all I'd undergone,
my bravery of thought, my refusal
of dishonest love, and my goodwill
would be returned to me manyfold,
after the years and years.
And I would not be bitter, nor petty,
nor would I act on selfish interests,
nor suppress my generosity.
And none of this was me.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1928 that Mickey Mouse was born when the first sound-synchronized cartoon to attract widespread public notice, Walt Disney's "Steamboat Willie," premiered in New York at the Colony Theater. The black and white cartoon featured Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, and Pegleg Pete and lasted seven minutes. With Walt Disney as the voice of Mickey, the cartoon met with great success.

In 1998, "Steamboat Willie" was one of 25 films added by the Library of Congress' National Film Preservation Board to the National Film Registry.

As Walt Disney recalled of the cartoon's first showing, "The effect on our little audience was nothing less than electric. They responded almost instinctively to this union of sound and motion. I thought they were kidding me. So they put me in the audience and ran the action again. It was terrible, but it was wonderful! And it was something new!"

It's the birthday of novelist and poet Margaret Atwood, born in Ottawa, Ontario (1939). During her childhood, her family spent every April through November in the Quebec wilderness, where her father, an entymologist, did research for the government. She was eleven years old before she completed a full year of school. When she was about six she began to write morality plays, comic books, poems, and a novel about an ant which she never finished. While in high school she wrote poetry and thought about a career in home economics. But, influenced by Edgar Allan Poe, at sixteen she committed herself to a writing career. She said, "It was suddenly the only thing I wanted to do."

Atwood studied English at the University of Toronto. She reviewed books and wrote articles for the college literary magazine. Her first volume of poetry, Double Persephone, was published in 1961, the year she graduated. She went to Radcliffe and then Harvard, where she studied Victorian literature and worked as a waitress and market researcher and wrote in her free time.

While at Harvard, Atwood realized realized that no one had ever published a critical study of Canadian literature. She later read all she could and wrote Survival: A Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature (1972). She claimed that Canadian literature reflects a tendency of Canadians to be both victims and survivalists. The book sparked a debate and the book sold 85,000 copies within ten years, an impressive sales record for a critical study.

With the book's success, Atwood craved privacy and moved to a one-hundred-acre farm in Ontario to write. She published several collections of poems, in cluding You Are Happy (1974), along with the novels The Edible Woman (1969), Lady Oracle (1976), The Handmaid's Tale (1985), and Cat's Eye (1990). In 2002, she published Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing.

Margaret Atwood said, "The answers you get from literature depend upon the questions you pose."

It's the birthday of American statistician George Gallup (1901), born in Jefferson, Iowa. He was a pioneer in scientific polling techniques, and his name became a household word synonymous with the opinion poll.

Gallup grew up in an octagonal house built by his father, whose name was also George. Gallup used ride his bike to deliver milk produced by the family's dairy herd. He was athletic in school, but was more drawn to facts and figures.

Gallup enrolled in the University of Iowa in 1918, played football and became the editor of the Daily Iowan. While editor in the early 1920s, Gallup conducted what is widely considered the first poll in human history. He took a survey to find the prettiest girl on the campus. The winner was Ophelia Smith, whom Gallup later married.

From 1929 to 1931, he headed the Drake University School of Journalism, left to teach at Northwestern University and conduct newspaper research in the Chicago area, and in 1935 set up the American Institute of Public Opinion at Princeton University. While teaching and doing research, Gallup found that small samples of the populace could predict general attitudes. He gained recognition for accurately predicting Franklin Roosevelt's victory over Alf Landon in 1936.

Gallup's biggest blunder, the prediction that Thomas Dewey would defeat Harry Truman in 1948, was a minor stumbling block. At one time, nearly 200 newspapers published his reports. At the height of his career, Gallup spoke out against the practice of exit polling in elections and advocated election reforms still being discussed today. Gallup died of a heart attack in 1984 at his summer home in Switzerland. His worldwide Gallup Organization is now run by his son, George Gallup, Jr.

George Gallup said, "I could prove God statistically."

And he said, "Polling is merely an instrument for gauging public opinion. When a president or any other leader pays attention to poll results, he is, in effect, paying attention to the views of the people. Any other interpretation is nonsense."

It was on this day in 1978 that Jim Jones, leader of the Peoples Temple, ordered more than 900 of his followers to drink cyanide-poisoned punch. He told guards to shoot anyone who refused or tried to escape.

Over a year before, Jones abruptly moved his flock to Jonestown, a settlement in the jungles of Guyana, a country the size of Idaho on South America's northern coast. The plan was to create an egalitarian agricultural community. But Peoples Temple members who worked the fields and lived on rice soon learned it was more like a prison. Loudspeakers broadcast Jones' voice at all hours. Anyone who broke the rules was punished by being put in a 6-by-4-foot underground enclosure. Misbehaving children were dangled head-first into a well late at night.

In May 1978, Deborah Layton, Jones' trusted financial lieutenant, managed to escape. She went to the U.S. consulate and later to newspapers warning everyone that Jones was conducting drills for a mass murder-suicide.

Six months later, U.S. Rep. Leo Ryan, who had been contacted by a number of people worried about their relatives in the Peoples Temple, led a delegation of reporters and relatives to Jonestown. Ryan's group arrived on November 17. Their visit began happily enough, but things went bad after some Jonestown residents indicated they wanted to defect. Ryan's group was ambushed the next day as they tried to leave at a nearby airstrip. Ryan and four others were killed. Later that night, Jones told his followers "the time has come for us to meet in another place," as the mass suicide began. He was found shot through the head.

It's the birthday of playwright and humorist Sir W[illiam] S[chwenk] Gilbert, of Gilbert and Sullivan, born in London (1836). He met composer Arthur Sullivan in 1870. They started working together the following year and produced a series of hits including H.M.S. Pinafore (1878), The Pirates of Penzance (1879), Patience (1881), The Gondoliers (1889), and others. Gilbert and Sullivan collaborated on 14 operas in the 25-year period from 1871 to 1896.

It's the birthday of German-American novelist and playwright Klaus Mann, born in Munich (1906). He was the son of Thomas Mann and began writing when he was seventeen. He published a collection of short stories called Vor dem Leben (Before Life) (1925) and worked as a theater critic while he wrote his first novel, Der Fromme Tanz (The Pious Dance), (1925) and his first play, Anja and Esther (1925). He left Germany for Amsterdam in 1933 when Hitler came to power, knowing he could not bear life under Hitler's dictatorship.

Mann spent his short life struggling for an identity apart from that of his famous father. He published nearly thirty books and attempted, in his work, to battle fascism in Europe. His greatest work, Mephisto (1936) examines the artist as traitor and is the story of a gifted actor who attains a position of influence within the Third Reich. The book is based on the life of Gustaf Grundgens, an actor who remained in Germany and became manager of the Nazi's State Theater. When the book came out, Grundgens managed to have it suppressed for many years. In 1977, nearly three decades after Mann died, the book was translated and made into an Oscar-winning film in 1981.

Mann became a citizen of the United States in 1943. He had been accepted into the U.S. Army and was sent to Europe in 1944. He participated in the Allied invasion of Italy and wrote for the army newspaper, Stars and Stripes. He said, "I stubbornly hope to live long enough to witness a state of international affairs which may be a little less confused and horrifying than the world we have to face at this moment." In a state of clinical depression, Klaus Mann took his own life in Cannes, France, in 1949.

It's the birthday of astronaut Alan Shepard, born in 1923 in East Derry, New Hampshire. Rear Admiral Shepard was one of the Mercury astronauts named by NASA in April 1959, and he holds the distinction of being the first American to journey into space. On May 5, 1961, in the Freedom 7 spacecraft, he was launched by a Redstone vehicle on a flight which carried him to an altitude of 116 miles. Shepard made his second space flight as spacecraft commander on Apollo 14, January 31–February 9, 1971. Shepard and his team spent 33 hours on the moon's surface where they performed experiments and collected almost 100 pounds of lunar samples for return to earth.

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