Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Gone With the Wind Published


Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind, one of the best-selling novels of all time and the basis for a blockbuster 1939 movie, is published on this day in 1936.

In 1926, Mitchell was forced to quit her job as a reporter at the Atlanta Journal to recover from a series of physical injuries. With too much time on her hands, Mitchell soon grew restless. Working on a Remington typewriter, a gift from her second husband, John R. Marsh, in their cramped one-bedroom apartment, Mitchell began telling the story of an Atlanta belle named Pansy O'Hara.

In tracing Pansy's tumultuous life from the antebellum South through the Civil War and into the Reconstruction era, Mitchell drew on the tales she had heard from her parents and other relatives, as well as from Confederate war veterans she had met as a young girl. While she was extremely secretive about her work, Mitchell eventually gave the manuscript to Harold Latham, an editor from New York's MacMillan Publishing. Latham encouraged Mitchell to complete the novel, with one important change: the heroine's name. Mitchell agreed to change it to Scarlett, now one of the most memorable names in the history of literature.

Published in 1936, Gone wth the Wind caused a sensation in Atlanta and went on to sell millions of copies in the United States and throughout the world. While the book drew some criticism for its romanticized view of the Old South and its slaveholding elite, its epic tale of war, passion and loss captivated readers far and wide. By the time Mitchell won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1937, a movie project was already in the works. The film was produced by Hollywood giant David O. Selznick, who paid Mitchell a record-high $50,000 for the film rights to her book.

After testing hundreds of unknowns and big-name stars to play Scarlett, Selznick hired British actress Vivien Leigh days after filming began. Clark Gable was also on board as Rhett Butler, Scarlett's dashing love interest. Plagued with problems on set, Gone wth the Wind nonetheless became one of the highest-grossing and most acclaimed movies of all time, breaking box office records and winning nine Academy Awards out of 13 nominations.

Though she didn't take part in the film adaptation of her book, Mitchell did attend its star-studded premiere in December 1939 in Atlanta. Tragically, she died just 10 years later, after she was struck by a speeding car while crossing Atlanta's Peachtree Street. Scarlett, a relatively unmemorable sequel to Gone wth the Wind written by Alexandra Ripley, was published in 1992.

[Image via Blondierockets]

Friday, June 25, 2010

RIP Michael Jackson

Turn on any TV today and you'll be reminded that today is the one year anniversary of Michael Jackson's death. He left an indelible mark on American music and culture - for his music, dance moves... and increasingly erratic behavior. To mark the anniversary, here is Michael Jackson's "Thriller". 

Vanity Fair recently published an article on the making of this genre defining video, including behind the scenes antic-dotes detailing Jackson's eccentricities. His talent cannot be denied, and this video has left an incredible legacy in its own right, inspiring copy cat routines from everyone from five year old girls down to a group of prisoners. 

Enjoy the original from the King of Pop:

[Image via Stanford

Battle of Little Big Horn


On this day in 1876, Native American forces led by Chiefs Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull defeat the U.S. Army troops of Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer in a bloody battle near southern Montana's Little Bighorn River.

Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, leaders of the Sioux tribe on the Great Plains, strongly resisted the mid-19th-century efforts of the U.S. government to confine their people to reservations. In 1875, after gold was discovered in South Dakota's Black Hills, the U.S. Army ignored previous treaty agreements and invaded the region. This betrayal led many Sioux and Cheyenne tribesmen to leave their reservations and join Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse in Montana. By the late spring of 1876, more than 10,000 Native Americans had gathered in a camp along the Little Bighorn River--which they called the Greasy Grass--in defiance of a U.S. War Department order to return to their reservations or risk being attacked.

In mid-June, three columns of U.S. soldiers lined up against the camp and prepared to march. A force of 1,200 Native Americans turned back the first column on June 17. Five days later, General Alfred Terry ordered Custer's 7th Cavalry to scout ahead for enemy troops. On the morning of June 25, Custer drew near the camp and decided to press on ahead rather than wait for reinforcements.

At mid-day, Custer's 600 men entered the Little Bighorn Valley. Among the Native Americans, word quickly spread of the impending attack. The older Sitting Bull rallied the warriors and saw to the safety of the women and children, while Crazy Horse set off with a large force to meet the attackers head on. Despite Custer's desperate attempts to regroup his men, they were quickly overwhelmed. Custer and some 200 men in his battalion were attacked by as many as 3,000 Native Americans; within an hour, Custer and every last one of his soldier were dead.

The Battle of Little Bighorn--also called Custer's Last Stand--marked the most decisive Native American victory and the worst U.S. Army defeat in the long Plains Indian War. The gruesome fate of Custer and his men outraged many white Americans and confirmed their image of the Indians as wild and bloodthirsty. Meanwhile, the U.S. government increased its efforts to subdue the tribes. Within five years, almost all of the Sioux and Cheyenne would be confined to reservations.

[Image via]

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Abraham Lincoln: Poet

Here's a great article by Robert Pinsky at Slate about the poetry of Abraham Lincoln. In particular, he focuses on a poem Lincoln wrote after returning to his Indiana home after twenty years away called "My Childhood-Home I See Again." He is initially nostalgic, but then saddened by the news that many of his childhood friends have died. Later on, the poem moves in a more tragic direction as Lincoln remembers a friend named Matthew who went insane at 19 and was institutionalized. 

Here is "My Childhood-Home I See Again"

My childhood-home I see again,
And gladden with the view;

And still as mem'ries crowd my brain,
.There's sadness in it too.

O memory! thou mid-way world
.'Twixt Earth and Paradise,

Where things decayed, and loved ones lost
...In dreamy shadows rise.

And freed from all that's gross or vile,
..Seem hallowed, pure, and bright,

Like scenes in some enchanted isle,
.All bathed in liquid light.

As distant mountains please the eye,
When twilight chases day—

As bugle-tones, that, passing by,
.In distance die away—

As leaving some grand water-fall
..We ling'ring, list it's roar,

So memory will hallow all
.We've known, but know no more.

Now twenty years have passed away,
Since here I bid farewell

To woods, and fields, and scenes of play
.And school-mates loved so well.

Where many were, how few remain
Of old familiar things!

But seeing these to mind again
..The lost and absent brings.

The friends I left that parting day—
How changed, as time has sped!

Young childhood grown, strong manhood grey,
.And half of all are dead.

I hear the lone survivors tell
How nought from death could save,

Till every sound appears a knell,
.And every spot a grave.

I range the fields with pensive tread,
.And pace the hollow rooms;

And feel (companions of the dead)
.I'm living in the tombs.

And here's an object more of dread,
Than ought the grave contains—

A human-form, with reason fled,
While wretched life remains.

Poor Matthew! Once of genius bright,—
.A fortune-favored child—

Now locked for aye, in mental night,
..A haggard mad-man wild.

Poor Matthew! I have ne'er forgot
.When first with maddened will,

Yourself you maimed, your father fought,
.And mother strove to kill;

And terror spread, and neighbours ran,
.Your dang'rous strength to bind;

And soon a howling crazy man,
Your limbs were fast confined.

How then you writhed and shrieked aloud,
Your bones and sinnews bared;

And fiendish on the gaping crowd,
With burning eye-balls glared.

And begged, and swore, and wept, and prayed,

....With maniac laughter joined—

How fearful are the signs displayed,
.By pangs that kill the mind!

And when at length, tho' drear and long,
.Time soothed your fiercer woes—

How plaintively your mournful song,
.Upon the still night rose.

I've heard it oft, as if I dreamed,
Far-distant, sweet, and lone;

The funeral dirge it ever seemed
Of reason dead and gone.

To drink it's strains, I've stole away,
.All silently and still,

Ere yet the rising god of day
Had streaked the Eastern hill.

Air held his breath; the trees all still
..Seemed sorr'wing angels round,

Their swelling tears in dew-drops fell
.Upon the list'ning ground.

But this is past, and nought remains
That raised you o'er the brute.

Your mad'ning shrieks and soothing strains
.Are like forever mute.

Now fare thee well: more thou the cause
.Than subject now of woe.

All mental pangs, but time's kind laws,
Hast lost the power to know.

And now away to seek some scene
.Less painful than the last—

With less of horror mingled in
The present and the past.

The very spot where grew the bread
.That formed my bones,
I see.
How strange, old field, on thee to tread,
And feel I'm part of thee!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Presidential Homes Not Immune from Great Recession

Here is a great article from Forbes and MSN about a recent evaluation of famous presidential pads. Special focus is given to the Obama residence in Chicago, the Kennedy compound on Cape Cod and Harry S. Truman's home, among others. It appears that the Great Recession that has been hitting real estate markets hard has also lowered the worth of the private homes of current and past presidents. Don't feel too badly for them though, something tells me Obama and the Kennedy's won't have to worry about keeping their homes.

[Image via lise2cc]

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A House Divided - Abraham Lincoln Tells It Like It Is

Today in 1858, Illinois candidate for Senate Abraham Lincoln said, “a house divided against itself cannot stand.”
Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson compete in my mind for the title of the best presidential writer, and this 1858 speech by Lincoln showed his prowess at turning a powerful phrase. The metaphor of a house divided was a perfect description for the contentious antebellum years. Half of the country believed slavery was protected in our nation’s Constitution, and were growing increasingly hostile to any threat to its “peculiar institution.” Meanwhile, the North was growing impatient at what it believed to be the increased demands of the South to not only continue the institution of slavery, but to allow its spread to the western territories. Lincoln’s prediction that this kind of national tension could not last with both sides refusing to alter its position would prove tragically accurate when he was elected to the presidency in 1860.
He was able to gain the nomination in part from the national notoriety he earned in the 1858 Senate race in which he famous debated his Democratic opponent Stephen Douglas on numerous occasions. He delivered his “House Divided” address on the day he accepted the Republican nomination for the United States Senate in Springfield, Illinois. The image of a “House Divided,” united Republicans across the country who feared the debate over slavery would lead to disunion. While this “House Divided” speech has become one of Lincoln’s most famous, the metaphor was not his own. The language comes originally from the Book of Matthew, “ Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand.” Lincoln was also not the first to allude to this biblical passage in commenting on the American political landscape. During the Senate debate on the Compromise of 1850, Sam Houston also referenced the Book of Matthew, “A nation divided against itself cannot stand.” While Lincoln may not have originated the line or its use in comparison to American politics, he had the keen sense to shape words and phrases that were worthy of the historical moment.
To read the speech in its entirety, click here, or visit the Presidential History page of my site.

[Image via rhapsodyinbooks]

Sunday, June 6, 2010

D-Day - June 6, 1944


Although the term D-Day is used routinely as military lingo for the day an operation or event will take place, for many it is also synonymous with June 6, 1944, the day the Allied powers crossed the English Channel and landed on the beaches of Normandy, France, beginning the liberation of Western Europe from Nazi control during World War II. Within three months, the northern part of France would be freed and the invasion force would be preparing to enter Germany, where they would meet up with Soviet forces moving in from the east.

With Hitler's armies in control of most of mainland Europe, the Allies knew that a successful invasion of the continent was central to winning the war. Hitler knew this too, and was expecting an assault on northwestern Europe in the spring of 1944. He hoped to repel the Allies from the coast with a strong counterattack that would delay future invasion attempts, giving him time to throw the majority of his forces into defeating the Soviet Union in the east. Once that was accomplished, he believed an all-out victory would soon be his.

On the morning of June 5, 1944, U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the supreme commander of Allied forces in Europe gave the go-ahead for Operation Overlord, the largest amphibious military operation in history. On his orders, 6,000 landing craft, ships and other vessels carrying 176,000 troops began to leave England for the trip to France. That night, 822 aircraft filled with parachutists headed for drop zones in Normandy. An additional 13,000 aircraft were mobilized to provide air cover and support for the invasion.

By dawn on June 6, 18,000 parachutists were already on the ground; the land invasions began at 6:30 a.m. The British and Canadians overcame light opposition to capture Gold, Juno and Sword beaches; so did the Americans at Utah. The task was much tougher at Omaha beach, however, where 2,000 troops were lost and it was only through the tenacity and quick-wittedness of troops on the ground that the objective was achieved. By day's end, 155,000 Allied troops--Americans, British and Canadians--had successfully stormed Normandy’s beaches.

For their part, the Germans suffered from confusion in the ranks and the absence of celebrated commander Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, who was away on leave. At first, Hitler, believing that the invasion was a feint designed to distract the Germans from a coming attack north of the Seine River, refused to release nearby divisions to join the counterattack and reinforcements had to be called from further afield, causing delays. He also hesitated in calling for armored divisions to help in the defense. In addition, the Germans were hampered by effective Allied air support, which took out many key bridges and forced the Germans to take long detours, as well as efficient Allied naval support, which helped protect advancing Allied troops.

Though it did not go off exactly as planned, as later claimed by British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery--for example, the Allies were able to land only fractions of the supplies and vehicles they had intended in France--D-Day was a decided success. By the end of June, the Allies had 850,000 men and 150,000 vehicles in Normandy and were poised to continue their march across Europe.

The heroism and bravery displayed by troops from the Allied countries on D-Day has served as inspiration for several films, most famously The Longest Day (1962) and Saving Private Ryan (1998). It was also depicted in the HBO mini-series Band of Brothers (2001).

[Image via