Topics in the News
The abstract expressionists—also called "Action Painters" because their blobs, drips, whorls, and scribbles express the process of painting, which they considered the essence of art—were too abstract for untutored American art lovers in the 1950s. The major young American artists of the day were rede-fining art and revolutionizing the aesthetic principles on which it was based, the public be damned. Such painters as Hans Hofmann, Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner, Robert Motherwell, and Mark Rothko drew their inspiration from the Western European movements cubism and surrealism, from the publicly sponsored artists' programs of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) of the 1930s, and from an unrelentingly threatening world political situation. The result was the first distinctly American art movement to have international influence.
With the upheaval of Western Europe during the 1930s and the military threat of the Nazis beginning in 1939, an influential group of artists migrated to New York: André Breton, Salvador Dalí, Max Ernst, Piet Mondrian, Fernand Léger, Marc Chagall, and others. They were among the most respected modern artists in the world, and by the time of World War II their influence was concentrated in Manhattan. Meanwhile a generation of talented American artists had just...
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In the art world of the 1950s, critics had an exaggerated importance. The art itself was new and difficult to understand, so art lovers, even artists themselves, turned to the critics for direction. Two men, representing different theories of abstract art, dominated Avantgarde art criticism of the day. They were Clement Greenberg, art critic for the Nation from 1945 to 1950 and associate editor of Commentary from 1945 to 1957, and Harold Rosenberg, a regular contributor to Art News (and reputed creator of Smokey the Bear for the national campaign against forest fires). They not only represented different views of art, they championed different celebrity artists. Rosenberg considered Willem de Kooning to be the preeminent artist of the day. Greenberg championed Jackson Pollock. Between them they popularized—even commercialized—an art form that was introspective above all and seemed a most unlikely subject for general interest.
Greenberg was considered the bully of the art world. He was dogmatic, irreverent, and overbearing. He was also successful in championing the cause of abstract art as the only defensible artistic form of the age—a historical inevitability, he called it. He observed that art in America after World War II had no coherent philosophy, and he set out to provide...
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The Beat Movement
A Literary Protest.
The Beats were members of an artistic protest movement in the mid 1950s in which a small group of writers declared themselves disaffected nonconformists and were elevated by the media to the status of antiheroes. GO! (1952), by John Clellon Holmes, is said to be the first Beat novel because it is a lightly disguised account of the lives of key Beat figures—Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady, and Allen Ginsberg. In the novel, as in real life, they consider themselves to be moral pioneers, turning their backs on materialism, and the values that support it, in favor of adventuresome lives given purpose by the search for meaning. GO! is valued much more highly by literary historians, who consider it documentary evidence of the early days of the movement, than by contemporary audiences, who were largely un-interested, if sales are a gauge.
The meaning of Beat has always been vague. Kerouac, who is said to have coined the term Beat Generation, seems to have been suggesting that he and his friends were "beaten" down in frustration at the difficulty of individual expression in an era of conformity. At another time he claimed that "beat" was a derivation from "beatific," suggesting that the Beats had earned a kind of intellectual grace through the aesthetic purity of their lives. Ginsberg...
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The Day the Music Died
At the end of January 1959 Buddy Holly was at the peak of his career. It had been three years since the young rock 'n' roll singer and guitar player had begun recording his music, and he had enjoyed a handful of hits: "That'll be the Day," "Oh Boy!," and "Peggy Sue," which had been in the top ten rock 'n' roll songs in both the United States and Great Britain. Holly had recently left his hometown band and fired his business manager in an attempt to capitalize fully on his success, with the help of his new wife.
Despite his hit records, he needed money in winter 1958-1959. His wife was pregnant, and he was building his career, so he signed up to tour with the Winter Dance Party, a rock 'n' roll show scheduled to play in remote locations throughout the Midwest. The attractions, in addition to Holly, were two acts that had just enjoyed their first hits: Ritchie Valens, whose "Donna" reached number two on the rock charts, had just recorded "La Bamba"; and the Big Bopper (J. P. Richardson), whose "Chantilly Lace" had sold over one million copies, a performance he hoped his new record, "Big Bopper's Wedding," would duplicate.
The tour began poorly. Before the musicians made it to the stage, their bus broke down and Holly's drummer was hospitalized with...
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45 RPM Records
Until June 1948, home listening to recorded music required a forgiving ear and a vivid imagination. The records were all ten or twelve inches in diameter and made of shellac. They cost about $1.50 each and played for about four minutes per side at 78 revolutions per minute. They broke easily, scratched at the slightest touch, and wore quickly with repeated play. The sound quality of the recording was terrible by today's standard, and, as a result, more energy went into improving record-player cabinets than in enhancing the quality of their sound reproduction. Even so, Americans bought about 350 million records in 1947 and owned 16 million record players, all of which ran at a single speed, because only 78-RPM records were available.
More Music Per Disc.
New technology reformed the industry. There were two major record manufacturers, RCA-Victor and Columbia, vying with one another for dominance. Columbia took the first step, introducing unbreakable, scratch-resistant (but far from scratch-proof) vinylite records in ten-inch and twelve-inch versions that played at 33 1/3 RPM. The twelve-inch records, called long-playing (or LPs), could hold twenty-five minutes worth of music on a side, and in time they became the industry standard. The price was about four or five dollars per record.
Too Many Sizes....
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A Congressman's Indignation.
On 16 June 1952 Congressman Ezekiel Candler Gathings went to war against obscenity as chairman of the House Select Committee on Current Pornographic Materials. He had been upset about newsstand titillation since he had come to Washington, D.C.: "Everytime I went to the drugstore to get cigars there would be a long line at the bookstand looking at the lewd covers.… I thought, what is this country coming to if we are distributing this type of thing to the youth of the land. Then, to follow it through, these kids seem to have the idea that one must go out and commit rape."
Representative Gathings established his credentials by sponsoring a congressional inquiry on radio and television during which he admitted that he did not know the difference between a good and a bad television program. Then Speaker Rayburn appointed him chairman of a special committee to investigate "Immoral, obscene, or otherwise offensive matter" in print. He and eight congressional colleagues, aided by two lawyers, two investigators, and a budget of twenty-five thousand dollars, studied an array of some one hundred exhibits with such single-minded zeal that they were ridiculed in the press. Seeking to reassure people uncertain about his motives, Gathings reassured them: "We are interested only in the extreme type of...
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Howl Obscenity Trial
A Dirty Book in San Francisco.
Howl and Other Poems (1956), the first book by Beat poet Allen Ginsberg, had been for sale at the City Lights bookshop in San Francisco for eight months when, on 21 May 1957, local city and county police officers Russell Woods and Thomas Pagee were sent by their boss, Capt. William Hanrahan, chief of the Juvenile Bureau, to purchase a copy of the book and swear out a warrant for the arrest of the sales-clerk and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the shop owner. Ferlinghetti's City Lights Books had also published the volume. The book was variously described as "a howl of pain" caused by "Mr. Ginsberg's personal view of a segment of life he has experienced … colored by exposure to jazz, to Columbia, a university, to a liberal and Bohemian education, to a great deal of traveling on the road, to a certain amount of what we call bumming around" (by Luther Nichols, a San Francisco reviewer) or as "a lot of sensitive bullshit," in the words of the prosecutor. The defendants pleaded not guilty to charges of selling lewd and indecent writings, and a highly publicized trial followed in San Francisco Municipal Court, the lowest ranking California court. The circuslike court proceedings were reported nationwide, though from a legal perspective the ultimate outcome was a foregone conclusion of dubious significance.
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Pressure from Television.
As television became an increasingly popular entertainment medium throughout the 1950s, the movie industry did everything within its power to pull people away from the box in the living room and into the theaters. Bigger became the byword for the movies. Wide-screen techniques such as CinemaScope and Vista Vision were used to add a panoramic effect to spectacles, swashbucklers, musicals, and otherwise splashy movies with big-name stars, big casts, big sets, and big budgets. Although hard-hitting social dramas on both small and large scales had an impact, they were overshadowed at the box office by the melodramatic woman's picture. Science-fiction and horror movies proved more commercially viable than ever, and some were filmed in the short-lived 3-D process.
Historical epics with huge casts were a mainstay of the 1950s. Many of them drew on the Bible: The Robe (1953) was the first movie filmed in the CinemaScope process. David and Bathsheba (1951) and Solomon and Sheba (1959) were big grossers during their...
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Newport Jazz Festival
Jazz was traditionally a music too closely associated with sin and race to attract an establishment following. Born in southern whorehouses and bar-rooms and developed by black musicians with a reputation for intemperance and licentiousness, its pulsating rhythms and libertine melodies had the right degree of naughtiness for a young dance crowd, but most people felt it was inappropriate for the concert stage and quite likely immoral in a nightclub setting. It was therefore mildly scandalous when social scions Elaine and Louis L. Lorillard of Newport, Rhode Island, announced plans to stage the first annual Newport Jazz Festival in mid July 1954 at the seventy-five-year-old Newport Casino, an exclusive open-air club founded by Mr. Lorillard's great-grandfather Pierre, the tobacco baron.
Six Thousand Fans.
Time magazine reported that "Newport's narrow streets were thronged with loudshirted bookie types from Broadway, young intellectuals in need of haircuts, crew-cut Ivy Leaguers, sailors, Harlem girls with extravagant hairdos, and high-school girls in shorts." Six thousand jazz fans paid three, four, or five dollars for a ticket to the two-day program that included jazz traditionalists such as Eddie Condon, Pee Wee Russell, and Wild Bill Davison, as well as modernists such as Dizzy Gillespie, Oscar Peterson, and Gerry...
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An Industry in Decline.
At the beginning of the 1950s book publishing seemed to be in trouble. Sales were in decline, and readers seemed to be showing less and less interest in hardcover books. Brentano's Book Store in New York City, which carried about a one-thousand-title stock, reported that 50 percent of its annual sales came at Christmas, when gift buyers were searching desperately for presents. Fortune reported an unnamed major publisher's estimate that 60 percent of its annual sales were institutional—that is, to libraries and schools. Book clubs selling hardcover books were doing as badly. Between 1947 and 1952 Book-of-the-Month Club membership fell from nine hundred thousand to five hundred thousand. The book-buying public seemed to be dwindling.
Reasons for the apparent decline in readership were publicly debated. Television was the culprit of choice, though there was spotty evidence to back up the belief that potential readers spent too much time watching their new televisions to buy books. Price was blamed by others. Trade books (those sold in bookstores), which averaged $3.50 per title and ranged from $2.50 to $6.00 in 1953, were too expensive, some said.
Some credence was given the price argument by the success of paperbacks, which typically cost...
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Rock 'n' Roll
Restless Blood and Jungle Rhythms.
At a time when America's most serious domestic problem in the minds of many people was the integration of schools, when federal integration laws were being defied across the nation, when angry parents were rioting in the streets to protest being forced to share public facilities with blacks, American teenagers became infected in epidemic proportions with an insatiable urge to dance to what their parents called jungle rhythms. Rock 'n' roll was a musical revolution in which young people, white and black, united in spirit, if not in person, outside segregated schoolhouses to adopt a criterion for musical judgment that had never been widely accepted before. Emotive expression laid over an insistent backbeat were the primary elements of the music they danced to—not pleasing melodies, clever lyrics, or even virtuosity.
If a performer had soul—the ability to experience and express deep feeling—other qualities in his music were incidental. Thus, a not particularly talented white prerock singer named Johnny Ray who writhed, agonized, fell to the floor, and cried what seemed to be real tears was hailed for his raw talent because he sang from the heart. An extremely animated, gaudily dressed black singer named Little Richard, whose talent lay in barely controlling a series of musical yells and...
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Atomic Age Literature.
Science fiction gained respectability after World War II. As the nation came to terms with the atomic age and began to speculate about the possibility of space travel, fictional accounts of alien creatures in stellar worlds became plausible enough to interest general readers. Before the war, science fiction was written according to standard genre formulas for plot and character, distinguished only by galactic settings. Nine science-fiction magazines published virtually all of the new work in the field, and, as a result, short stories dominated the genre. When science-fiction novels were published, they were either serialized in magazines or presented in paperback format and marketed to what was regarded as an undiscriminating audience.
After the war, science fiction matured as it attracted the attention of big business. Holly-wood led the way with films that exploited Americans'
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Sam Phillips and the Record Business.
In January 1950 a disc jockey named Sam Phillips opened the Memphis Recording Service, the first professional recording studio in the city. It had a clearly defined purpose—to scout talent and produce black R&B record masters that could be distributed under a partnership agreement with such specialist labels as Chess and Dot. At the time, 95 percent of the record business was controlled by the major companies. The rest was open to small independents, like Phillips, who appealed to special markets.
Yellow Sun Records.
"My aim was to try and record the blues and other music I liked and to prove whether I was right or wrong about this music. I knew, or I felt I knew, that there was a bigger audience for blues than just the black man of the mid-South," Phillips remembered. He soon found that if he wanted his business to be profitable, he would have to form his own record label and handle his own distribution. In 1952, after a false start with a label called The Phillips,' he founded Sun Records, which served as a launching pad for the rock 'n' roll revolution that began in 1955.
By 1954 Phillips had recorded some of the finest blues musicians in the South: Riley "B. B." (for Black Boy) King, Chester Burnett (who called...
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Arturo Toscanini's Farewell
In the early 1950s "Maestro" referred to only one conductor: Arturo Toscanini, the fiery sym-phony conductor whose pursuit of perfection without compromise, unparalleled musical intelligence, and mastery of scores astonished professional musicians throughout his long career. When he retired in 1954 at the age of eighty-seven he had been a professional musician and conductor for seventy-eight years and a key figure in the American music world since 1908, when he became conductor of the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.
The NBC Symphony Orchestra.
American audiences were so enamored of Toscanini that when he resigned as conductor of the New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra in 1937 at the age of seventy to return to his native city of Milan, NBC made him an irresistible offer. He was already the highest-paid symphony conductor in the world, and his records on the RCA Victor label sold more than those of any other classical musician. So NBC offered him the largest live audience a performer of serious music had ever known. They formed specifically for him an orchestra of internationally acclaimed musicians who performed weekly concerts at Carnegie Hall in New York City under the direction of the Maestro for live national radio broadcast. The broadcast reached two
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Bernstein, Leonard 1918-1990
SYMPHONY CONDUCTOR, COMPOSER
Image Pop-UpLeonard Bernstein
Leonard Bernstein's career was launched on 14 November 1943. He was twenty-five, four years out of Harvard, a recent graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, an assistant conductor at the New York Symphony Orchestra, and otherwise undistinguished except for his energy, his good looks, and a vaguely defined artistic potential. Bruno Walter, director of the New York Symphony, was stricken with stomach cramps on 13 November, and the musical director was out of town, so the next day's conducting chores fell to Bernstein by default. His performance was so impressive that the New York Times praised his brilliance in an editorial.
Movies and Plays.
During the 1950s Bernstein was a very busy man. He was a conductor, a concert pianist, a composer, and an impresario. He wrote the musical score for the movie On the Waterfront (1954), starring Marlon Brando; he collaborated with Lillian Hellman and Richard Wilbur on the Broadway stage production of Candide (1956); he recorded music, as a conductor and as a pianist, at a furious...
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Brando, Marlon 1924-
Before James Dean, Marlon Brando popularized the jeans-and-T-shirt look, with and without leather jacket, as a movie idol during the early 1950s. The theatrically trained actor began to turn away from his youth-oriented persona with such movie roles as Mark Antony in Julius Caesar (1953). After winning an Academy Award for Best Actor for On the Waterfront (1954), he portrayed a wide variety of characters on-screen, garnering popular acclaim and critical consensus as one of the greatest cinema actors of the late twentieth century.
Brando was born in Omaha, Nebraska, on 3 April 1924. After expulsion from a military academy he dug ditches until his father offered to finance his education. Brando moved to New York to study with acting coach Stella Adler and at Lee Strasberg's Actors' Studio. While at the Actors' Studio, Brando adopted the Method approach, which emphasizes characters' motivations for actions. He made his Broadway debut in John Van Druten's sentimental I Remember Mama (1944). New York theater critics voted him...
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Dean, James 1931-1955
Few personalities are more tied to the 1950s than James Dean. His look—piercing eyes, thick shock of combed-back hair, jeans, and jacket worn open over a T-shirt—is still popular in the 1990s. What makes his influence even more remarkable is that he starred in only three movies: East of Eden (1955), Rebel Without a Cause (1955), and Giant (1956). He had small parts in three others: Sailor Beware (1951), Fixed Bayonets (1951), and Has Anybody Seen My Gal? (1952).
Dean was born on 8 February 1931 in Marion, Indiana. His mother died when he was nine years old, and he was raised by an aunt and uncle. He won the Indiana State Dramatic Contest while in high school and then attended the University of California, Los Angeles. He worked with a group of actors instructed by James Whitmore, and that association led to the brief appearances in his three early movies.
With Whitmore's encouragement Dean moved on to study at the Actors' Studio in New York City, where he worked as an extra in...
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De Kooning, Willem 1904
ABSTRACT EXPRESSIONIST ARTIST
In 1954 when the Museum of Modern Art mounted the exhibit for the American Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, the most prestigious world display of contemporary art, only two artists were included: Ben Shahn, a proletarian painter and poster-art innovator, and Willem de Kooning. It was the second of three times during the 1950s that de Kooning's works had been included in the Venice Biennale, and it was a recognition of his preeminent place among contemporary American artists. In New York his works were included in the Whitney Museum Annual Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting every year during the decade except for 1955, 1957, and 1958; his works were at the center of the influential Young American Painters exhibit at the Guggenheim Museum; and his three one-man shows at the Sidney Janis Gallery in Manhattan were among the most influential of the decade. No living American artist commanded more critical attention than de Kooning—not even his competitive friend Jackson Pollock.
De Kooning was born in Holland...
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Faulkner, William 1897-1962
A self-described Mississippi farmer was hailed as one of the world's greatest writers in 1950. In June the American Academy of Arts and Letters awarded William Faulkner the Howells Medal, their highest honor to a senior writer, and in November Faulkner was named winner of the 1949 Nobel Prize for literature, which the Swedish Academy had withheld the previous year. In America the choice was roundly criticized. Faulkner was variously described in the popular press as depraved, obscure, insignificant, and irrelevant. As recently as 1945 none of Faulkner's seventeen books had been in print, and his two new novels of the early 1950s, A Requiem for a Nun (1951) and A Fable (1954), did little in the minds of most readers to justify the American Academy's and the Swedish Academy's judgments.
A Requiem for a Nun.
It was unclear to most readers whether A Requiem for a Nun was a play or a novel. It had elements of each and was criticized with equal vehemence when presented in either form. Faulkner clarified by explaining that the work | was a novel in the form of a play. Even setting aside confusion about the form, readers in the 1950s were | offended by the plot, which recalls brutal rape and abandonment in the context of a murder trial for infanticide that results in the death...
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Hemingway, Ernest 1899-1961
No literary figure during the 1950s, or any other decade in American history, achieved a degree of literary celebrity equal to that of Ernest Hemingway. Tough, experienced, independent-minded, action-seeking, hard-drinking, and photogenic, he rep-resented the full romance of authorship for readers of the time.
To many literary critics, though, he seemed through as a writer at the beginning of the decade, and if there was any suspicion that he still might have a spark of creative genius left, his novel Across the River and Into the Trees (1950) dispelled it. He had, it seemed, entered the phase of his life given over to accepting awards for past achievements.
The Old Man and the Sea.
Then came The Old Man and the Sea (1952), Hemingway's twenty-seven-thousand-word short novel (one-third to one-half the length of the average novel) about an old fisherman struggling...
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Kerouac, Jack 1922-1969
The Right Time.
Jack Kerouac was a writer who earned his place in cultural history because of timing more than literary merit. In his books, most notably On the Road (1957), he expresses the spirit of the 1950s for an audience aimlessly seeking a suitable mode of expression. Kerouac's depiction of a band of free spirits discovering themselves as they improvised their way across America in what was intended to be a real-life analogue to a jazz-ensemble improvisation struck a chord with young iconoclastic readers. Kerouac became a representative figure, the king of the Beats.
When his father died in 1948, Kerouac's future looked dismal. He had done nothing so consistently as fail. He had attended Columbia University between 1940 and 1942 and hoped to play football, but, because of an injury and a characteristic lack of resolve, he quit the team. Academically he did no better, though he did show a promising interest in creative writing. After dropping out of...
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Monroe, Marilyn 1926-1962
Marilyn Monroe is one of the most popular stars the movies have ever produced. When she stood over a subway grate in The Seven Year Itch (1955), her white pleated dress billowing above her waist, and squealed, "Isn't it delicious?," she created a legendary image. Yet she was far more than a face and a voluptuous body, although those were her major assets to a flesh-conscious industry. She was a superb comedienne, a honey-toned singer, and a dramatic actress of above-average range, as witnessed by her chilling portrayal of a villainess in Niagara (1953), her role as a down-and-out divorcée in The Misfits (1961), and her evocation of a honky-tonk performer in Bus Stop (1956). Acclaimed stage and screen director Joshua Logan, who worked with her on Bus Stop, called her "the most completely realized and authentic film actress since [Greta] Garbo."
Monroe was born Norma Jeane Mortenson (later changed to Norma Jean Baker) on 1 June 1926 in Los Angeles. Her unwed mother, a film editor, there-after spent most of her life in mental institutions, and Monroe was haunted throughout her adult life by the fear that she, too, might lose her sanity. She grew up in foster homes and orphanages. At age eight she was raped by a lodger in a house where she was...
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Parker, Charlie 1920-1955
JAZZ ALTO SAXOPHONIST
It is the consensus of jazz critics that no modern jazz musician played with the brilliance of alto saxophonist Charlie Parker. His professional career lasted half his life—some seventeen years—and he left as his legacy about one hundred records made during his last decade. They preserve examples of the melodic bursts and rhythmic innovations that earned him his nickname, "Bird" or "Yardbird," because his inspiration and the purity of his music was considered birdlike. According to Dizzy Gillespie, Parker invented bebop, the jazz sound of the postwar period. He was so highly regarded that in 1949, when he was twenty-nine years old, a jazz club on Broadway in Manhattan was renamed Birdland in his honor.
Drugs and Despair.
Charlie Parker was a legend Before his death at the age of thirty-five. A man of huge appetites, he overindulged frequently. He was a neurotic, hospitalized twice for mental breakdowns, and he was a drug addict whose habit caused him to misbehave flamboyantly. In February 1954 his two-and-a-half-year-old daughter Pree died of pneumonia. After that Parker was through. He was unable to reconcile himself to her death, and what had been a dangerous drug habit became a suicidal plunge into despair.
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Pollock, Jackson 1912-1956
ABSTRACT EXPRESSIONIST ARTIST
Jackson Pollock was the art world's most notorious celebrity during the 1950s. Despite a long apprenticeship he came to prominence suddenly late in 1949, largely as a result of the advocacy of Nation art critic Clement Greenberg, who declared Pollock's greatness. In response to what many thought was an outrageous claim, Life magazine published a feature story titled "Jackson Pollock: Is He the Greatest Living Painter in the United States?" The article featured photographs of Pollock's huge drip paintings that consist of layers of multicolored paint spatters and quoted the artist as saying that when he painted he had to get "in" his paintings and "When I am in my painting I'm not aware of what I'm doing."
"Jack the Dripper."
Pollock made many enemies, among whom he was known as "Jack the Dripper." During the 1950s the Cedar Tavern in Greenwich Village, New York, was as significant a place in his life as his art studio. Pollock drank heavily and was abusive when he was drunk. He was a Tuesday-night regular at the Cedar, an artists' hangout, and his appearance came to be dreaded because he was so rude and contentious. As his fame as an artist grew, so did his reputation as a nasty drunk, profane, insulting, and slovenly. Artist Larry Rivers,...
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Presley, Elvis 1935-1977
ROCK 'N' ROLL SINGER
A Revolutionized Industry.
In 1956 the Record Industry Association of America reported a 43 percent increase in sales—$100 million—to $331 million per year. The average annual growth in sales over the previous year had been about 4 percent a year. The reason was that teenagers, stimulated by new stars, had begun buying records, the most exciting of which was Elvis Presley.
Elvis Aron Presley was born at home in a two-room shack on North Saltillo road in Tupelo, Mississippi, on 8 January 1935. His twin brother was stillborn. Not since Union general A. J. Smith defeated Nathan Forest there on 14 July 1864 had Tupelo witnessed such a portentous event. By the time he was twenty-one the boy, so famous that like kings and queens he was known by his first name only, would have an impact on American culture without parallel among entertainers in the history of America.
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Salinger, J. D. 1919-
Adolescent Point of View.
In 1959 critic Arthur Mizener wrote that J. D. Salinger "is probably the most avidly read author of any serious pretensions in his generation." Salinger attracted his admiring readership, which was concentrated on college campuses, with one novel, The Catcher in the Rye (1951), and one volume of short stories, Nine Stories (1953), most of which had originally appeared in the New Yorker. Salinger's reputation as a serious writer was difficult for some members of the literary establishment to swallow, because it was based on what was considered to be an adolescent readership. Salinger wrote about and appealed to young people. A Time magazine reviewer observed that he could "understand an adolescent mind without displaying one."
Salinger's literary output during the 1950s consisted of The Catcher in the Rye, a first-person narrative by Holden Caulfield, a troubled sixteen-year-old boy seeking to...
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Williams, Hank 1924-1953
COUNTRY MUSIC SINGER
"King of the Hillbillies."
Hank Williams's promoters called him "King of the Hillbillies." He was an illiterate country-music songwriter and guitar player who was more popular than any musician in his field had ever been. He rarely failed to have at least one record on the list of top-ten hits in its category during the last two years of his life—such songs as "Your Cheatin' Heart," "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," "Lovesick Blues," and "I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive"—and they all reflected his torment. Singing them night after night was more than he could endure. He was twenty-nine years old when he died on New Year's Day 1953.
A psychiatrist called Hank Williams "the most lonesome, the saddest, most tortured and frustrated of individuals." He had learned to play guitar at age six from a black street singer named Teetot whom he had met while working as a shoeshine boy in Georgiana, Alabama, and at age twelve he was playing and singing in honky-tonks. By the late 1940s he was a regular on the nation's, which is to say the South's, two most popular country radio shows—first "Louisiana Hayride," broadcast from Shreveport, Louisiana, and then the Grand Ole Opry, in Nashville, Tennessee—whose performers were acknowledged as the field's brightest stars....
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People in the News
Film rights to Don't Go Near the Water, by William Brinkley, reportedly sold for four hundred thousand dollars in summer 1956 despite bad reviews of the novel.
Nobel Prize-winning novelist Pearl S. Buck, poet Leonard Bacon, and composer Douglas Moore were named members of the American Academy of Arts and Letters on 30 November 1951.
In 1950 New American Library claimed that God's Little Acre, by Erskine Caldwell, was the all-time best-selling twenty-five-cent paperback, having sold 5 million copies. New American Library reported that it had sold 18 million copies of Caldwell's books.
On 2 January 1958 soprano Maria Callas walked out during an opening-night performance at the Opera House in Rome, nearly prompting a riot; eleven months later Rudolf Bing fired her from the Metropolitan Opera when she refused to perform as contracted.
Singer Sammy Davis, Jr., lost the sight in his left eye in an auto accident on 19 November 1954.
In April 1953 Bethsabée de Rothschild, daughter of Baron de Rothschild, underwrote "American Dance," a two-week presentation of modern dance at the Alvin Theater in New York City. She chose the choreographers Merce Cunningham, Nina Fonaroff, Pearl Lang, Helen McGehee, and May O'Donnell....
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Fiction: The Way West, by A. B. Guthrie, Jr.
Drama: South Pacific, by Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II, and Joshua Logan
Poetry: Annie Allen, by Gwendolyn Brooks
Music: The Consul, by Gian Carlo Menotti
Fiction: The Town, by Conrad Richter
Drama: no award
Poetry: Complete Poems, by Carl Sandburg
Music: Giants in the Earth, by Douglas Moore
Fiction: The Caine Mutiny, by Herman Wouk
Drama: The Shrike, by Joseph Kramm
Poetry: Collected Poems, by Marianne Moore
Music: Symphony Concertante, by Gail Kubik
Fiction: The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway
Drama: Picnic, by William Inge
Poetry: Collected Poems 1917-1952, by Archibald MacLeish
Music: no award
Fiction: no award
Drama: The Teahouse of the August Moon, by John Patrick
Poetry: The Waking, by Theodore Roethke
Music: Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra, by...
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Irving Addison Bachelier, 90, novelist, 24 February 1950.
Fred E. Ahlert, 61, popular-song writer (" I'll Get By," "Walkin My Baby Back Home"), president (1948-1952) of American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), 20 October 1953.
Zoë Akins, 72, playwright, poet, novelist, and 1935 Pulitzer Prize winner for her dramatization of The Old Maid, 29 October 1958.
Fred Allen (John Florence Sullivan), 61, comedian, 17 March 1956.
Frederick Lewis Allen, 63, author (Only Yesterday, Since Yesterday), editor in chief of Harpers Magazine (1941-1953), 13 February 1954.
Paul Hastings Allen, 68, composer of operas and symphonies, winner of the 1910 Paderewski Prize, 28 September 1952.
Maxwell Anderson, 70, playwright (Winterset, High Tor, Both Your Houses) who popularized the use of blank verse in modern drama, 28 February 1959.
Henry W. Armstrong, 71, song composer (" Sweet Adeline," "Eyes of Blue"), 28 February 1951.
Edward Arnold (Guenther Schneider), 66, motion-picture actor (Diamond Jim Brady, Command Decision, All That Money Can Buy), 26 April 1956.
Sholem Asch, 76, Polish-born Yiddish novelist...
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Leo Lowenthai, Literature, Popular Culture, and Society (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1961);
Bernard Rosenberg and David Manning White, eds., Mass Culture: Popular Arts in America (Glencoe, Ill.: Free Press, 1957).
George Bluestone, Novels into Film (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1957);
George N. Fenin and William K. Everson, The Western (New York: Orion, 1962);
Penelope Houston, The Contemporary Cinema, 1945-1963 (Baltimore: Penguin, 1963);
Houston, Introduction to the Art of the Movies (New York: Noonday Press, 1960);
Siegfried Kracauer, Theory of Film (New York: Oxford University Press, 1960);
Film Culture, periodical;
Whitney Balliert, The Sound of Surprise: 46 Pieces on Jazz (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1959);
Rudi Blesh, Shining Trumpets: A History of Jazz second edition (New York: Knopf, 1958);
Steve Chapie, Rock 'n' Roll is Here to Pay (Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1977);
Samuel B. Charters and Leonard Kunstadt, Jazz: A History of the New...
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Important Events in the Arts, 1950–1959
- The Cardinal, by Henry Morton Robinson, is the year's best seller.
- Musical festivals in the United States and abroad commemorate the bicentenary death of Johann Sebastian Bach. Notable among them are the yearlong Bach series at the University of California School of Music and the augmented program in the annual Bach series at the Berkshire Music Festival.
- Basquet-Banquet, by Karl Knaths, wins the $3,500 first prize in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibit "American Painting Today—1950."
- Abstract expressionist painter Jackson Pollack completes Autumn Rhythm, in which the paint is dribbled and flung all over the surface of the canvas.
- South Pacific by Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II, and Joshua Logan wins the Pulitzer Prize.
- Photographer Margaret Bourke-White makes a photographic essay of South Africa.
- Marilyn Monroe, twenty-four, makes her debut in John Huston's film The Asphalt Jungle.
- In January, alto saxophonist Charlie "Yardbird" Parker and his quintet end a month-long series of performances. They began on December 15, 1949, at Birdland, opening the jazz nightclub named for Parker located at 52nd St. and Broadway in Manhattan.
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