Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Birthday Dance Party: I'm Not Going

Today, July 2, has some historical significance, allow me to illuminate.
It is generally accepted that the fall of our civilization began on July 2, 1962.  Walmart opened its first store.
This is the actual date, in 1776, that the Second Continental Congress voted to adopt the Declaration of Independence (though it took that group of slackers two days to actually get the thing signed and printed).

A year later, it was the date that Vermont became the first state to abolish slavery. Because at the time Vermont was a sovereign territory, it wasn't even AT the Second Continental Congress.

Only 4 American Presidential Assassinations have been successful, so far. This artist's rendering reflects James Garfield being shot by Charles Guiteau. Garfield has the distinction of serving as President only 200 days, the second shortest presidency (William Henry Harrison only lasted about a month), but he spent his time working toward greater civil rights for the recently freed slaves.  Why is he in this entry?  He was shot on July 2, and though he lingered hopefully until September, his official assassination date is today.

Perhaps I'm being a little bit zealous about July 2nd. You have already guessed that it must be my birthday.

But not just mine. Lindsey Lohan was also born on this date, and I imagine she is hoisting a few to celebrate even as I write this.

Tyrone Guthrie was born today, in 1900. I wouldn't
mind working at his theater.

Ron Silver shares my birthday. He appeared in
one of my favorite forgotten films, Garbo Talks.
Polly Holliday and Larry David were also born 7/2.

 Happy Birthday to that famous flip-flopper Thomas Cranmer. He was the 15th century cleric who pronounced Henry VIII legally divorced from Catherine of Aragon, and was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury for his pains. Of course, Cranmer later made an oopsie by trying to set Lady Jane Grey on the throne, for which that spoil-sport Bloody Mary burned him at the stake. But that didn't happen on July 2nd, so who cares? BTW, this is actor Bernard Hepton, who portrayed Cranmer in several British miniseries, and is considered his definitive portrayer.

I can't claim to share much in common with Thurgood Marshall (I don't have an airport named after me) or Imelda Marcos (I haven't bought new shoes in years) or the Roman Emperor Valentinian. (Let's get real, who the hell even knows anything about any Roman Emperor after Nero? Well maybe Constantine, but just because he popped up in Sunday School...).

Speaking of death and destruction, I have to admit that many more important people died on July 2nd than were born on it. That sourpuss Nostradamus left this earth in 1566, signalling the way to a whole host of influential folks to follow suit.

On July 2nd, Earnest Hemingway stopped wondering For Whom the Bell Tolls, discovering on this date that it tolled for he. By coincidence or divine intervention, his granddaughter Margeaux Hemingway also died today, in 1996. WWII Pin-up girl Betty Grable finally retired those million-dollar legs on this date (in her later years, I saw her in "Hello, Dolly" in summer stock, she wasn't half bad!).
Fred Gwynne moved out of 1313 Mockingbird Ln
on 7/2.  Lee Remick and Jimmy Stewart joined him,
and Mario Puzo, creator of The Godfather, began
sleeping with the fishes today.

I don't think Bathsheba Spooner had the legs of Betty Grable, but she died July 2, too. She was a real piece of work back in the 18th century. She nursed a 16 year old soldier back to health during the Revolutionary War, then became pregnant by him. She then arranged for two escaped British Prisoners of War to kill her aging husband, and dump the old coot down a well.

Happy Execution Day, Bathsheba!

At her trial, she pleaded extenuating circumstances (wouldn't you?), and became the first woman to be executed by the newly formed United States of America.

She was still pregnant at the time.

Amelia Earhart disappeared on this date, in the middle of that round-the-world flight she was taking.

In my opinion, the most significant thing to happen on any July 2nd occurred in 1987.  That year, one of the most influential figures in the American Theatre died. 
Micheal Bennett died on my
birthday in 1987.

I write of the late, great Michael Bennett, creator of A Chorus Line, Dreamgirls, and the sorely underrated Ballroom (which I saw twice in one week during its short Broadway life. Go here for its number presented at the Tony Awards).  Bennett's work has appeared numerous times on the Dance Party, including this grainy but exciting clip from the original A Chorus Line, and this unforgettable clip from Katherine Hepburn's only musical, Coco He was also responsible for this kooky holiday number from Promises, Promises

But for this special catch-up/birthday/deathday Dance Party, let's take a look at Dreamgirls
This original Broadway cast included, left to right, Jennifer Holliday, Sheryl Lee Ralph, and Loretta Devine.  The show was Bennett's last to hit Broadway before his death, and featured a seamless, cinematic style which has now been adopted as a standard staging technique for the genre.
Before Michael Bennett became attached to the project, it was being prepped as a starring vehicle for Nell Carter, who later departed the workshop phase when TV beckoned. 
Holliday was ferocious in the show, as you can see from the
clip below. Her role was originally to die in Act I, but our
star was having none of that. Effie now succeeds as a solo
in Act II.

It was Bennett himself who plucked Jennifer Holiday from her gospel obscurity (she was only 20) and placed her at the center of the musical.  The new star gave him lots of trouble, quitting twice because her role was too small.  The clip below, from the Tony Awards of 1982, shows why Holliday won the award that year.  It's a bit long, but includes brief appearances by Sheryl Lee Ralph and a very slim Loretta Devine, both of whom went on to larger careers.  Holliday did too, but she never escaped the fame earned from this debut performance, with which she will always be associated.
In honor of the day, here's this: