Feb. 5, 2008


by David Ignatow

  For Harvey Shapiro

I stand and listen, head bowed,
to my inner complaint.
Persons passing by think
I am searching for a lost coin.
You're fired, I yell inside
after an especially bad episode.
I'm letting you go without notice
or terminal pay. You just lost
another chance to make good.
But then I watch myself standing at the exit,
depressed and about to leave,
and wave myself back in wearily,
for who else could I get in my place
to do the job in dark, airless conditions?

"Self-Employed" by David Ignatow from Against the Evidence: Selected Poems 1934-1994. © Wesleyan University Press, 1994. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It is the birthday of conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton, born in Brighton, England (1908). The twins' mother, Kate Skinner, an unmarried barmaid, sold the infants to midwife and pub operator Mary Hilton. Under Hilton's care, the girls, who were joined at the lower back and hip, toured Europe where their bodies were put on display for curious crowds.

The twins continued as part of a vaudeville act after Mary Hilton's death, when they were "willed" to her daughter and son-in-law. Though their act was quite profitable, the girls saw little of the money and were not allowed to date. Following a dramatic court case, deemed a "trial of bondage (1931)," the twins earned their freedom at the age of 23 and created their own act called the Hilton Sisters Revue.

With their livelihood under their own control, the twins continued to draw attention with their vaudeville act and became celebrities after appearing in the 1932 film Freaks. The film focused on the girls' romances. In real life, they were physically identical, yet their personalities were quite different. Violet was more quiet and reserved, while Daisy was the dominant leader. Both girls enjoyed relationships and engagements.

The twins continued performing for many years but as they reached middle age, they fell into obscurity. The girls set up a hamburger stand in 1955 called the Hilton Sisters Snack Bar, but after business slowed, they made another attempt at touring. They had trouble drawing crowds and in 1962, an agent booked the twins at a drive-in theater in Charlotte, North Carolina. They were to appear on stage during the screening of the re-released film Freaks. Following the show, the agent failed to pick up the girls and they were stranded. The twins took a job at a local supermarket, the Park-N-Shop, weighing produce. They worked at the supermarket until 1968, when they succumbed to the Hong Kong flu.

It is the birthday of one of the most prolific Catholic writers of our time, Andrew M(oran) Greeley. (books by this author) Born in 1928 in Oak Park, Illinois, to Andrew Thomas Greeley and Grace Anne (McNichols), the priest and author owes his Irish heritage to grandparents who migrated to American from County Mayo, Ireland. Greeley was ordained a priest in 1954 and attended the University of Chicago where he completed his graduate work in sociology in 1962. He's published close to 170 works with subjects ranging from the Catholic imagination and Catholic education to sociological analysis. Greeley gained notoriety for his fiction writing with the publication of The Cardinal Sin (1981), a novel about an Irish priest who takes a mistress and fathers an illegitimate child on the way to becoming cardinal of Chicago. With critics so focused on his novels sexual scenes, Greeley once said, "Sometimes I suspect that my obituary in The New York Times will read 'Andrew Greeley, Priest, wrote steamy novels.'" Some of Greeley's recent publications include Jesus: A Meditation on His Parables (2007) and Irish Linen: A Nuala Anne McGrail Novel (2007), a new addition to the fictional series about an Irish psychic.

It is the birthday of Nobel Prize-winning physicist Robert Hofstadter, born 1915 in New York City and best known for his research on the nucleus of the atom. He was the son of a salesman and attended the City College of New York. Hofstadter wanted to major in literature and philosophy until a physics professor told him, "the laws of physics could be tested and those of philosophy could not." He won the Kenyon Prize for outstanding work in physics and mathematics in 1935.

Hofstadter went on to measure the precise size and shape of the proton and neutron, the particles of the nucleus, winning the Nobel Prize on December 10, 1961 for presenting the first reasonably accurate picture of the structure and composition of atomic neutrons and protons. Hofstadter's discoveries played an important role in medicine, astronomy, military defense, and many other fields.

It is the birthday of American author, playwright, musician, and composer Elizabeth (Liz) Swados, (books by this author) born 1951 in Buffalo, New York, to Robert O. and Sylvia (Maisel) Swados. Swados is the winner of five Tony Award nominations and three Obie Awards. She gained notoriety both on and off Broadway for her Tony-nominated production of Runaways (1978), a collage musical that explored the theme of troubled kids through songs and sketches, without relying on plot. She's written many plays, including Alice in Concert, which starred Meryl Streep at the Public Theatre in 1980. In addition to her stage work, Swados has published three novels, including My Depression: A Picture Book, an illustrated look at the author's own personal struggle with depression, as well as textbooks for the next generation of playwrights and composers, including Listening Out Loud: Becoming a Composer (1988) and most recently, At Play: Teaching Teenagers Theater (2006).

It is the birthday of actor, director, and writer Christopher Guest, born Christopher Haden-Guest in New York City (1948). Guest grew up with a fascination for voices and the comedy of Peter Sellers. He attended the High School of Music and Art in New York City, where he befriended Arlo Guthrie, the son of folk singer Woody Guthrie. After attending New York University, Guest appeared in a number of off-Broadway plays before achieving real success as a writer of music and lyrics for National Lampoon's Lemmings (1973) at Village Gates theater.

Guest is most famous for his hilarious mock documentaries or "mockumentaries" - a phrase the writer despises - including This is Spinal Tap (1984), Best in Show (2000), A Mighty Wind (2003), and For Your Consideration (2006). In each of these films, Guest relies on an improvisational style, with just the characters' backgrounds and an outline scripted. Each actor is responsible for improvising his or her own dialogue. Guest relies on an acclaimed troupe of actors, including Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara, Jennifer Coolidge, Parker Posey, and Fred Willard. The actors are encouraged to research their own characters, bring their own props, and be prepared to respond to improvised dialogue while in character.

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




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