Friday, November 7, 2008

Broadcaster and Writer Studs Terkel Passes On

Studs Terkel, a long time radio personality and a Pulitzer prize winning writer, passed on October 31 at the age of 96.

He was born Louis Terkel on May 16, 1912 in New York City. When he was eight years old his family moved to Chicago. Studs Terkel received a juris doctor from the University of Chicago Law School, but after failing the bar exam he worked a short time for the Federal Emergency Relief Administration. Afterwards he would get a job in Washington working for the Department of Treasury. Upon coming back to Chicago in 1938, Terkel joined the Federal Writers’ Project. Writing would be his introduction to radio, as he wrote scripts for WGN in Chicago. Terkel would also go into acting, appearing at the Chicago Repertory Group in Waiting for Lefty and such radio shows as Ma Perkins. It was during this period that he adopted the name "Studs." He served on year in the Air Force during World War II, eventually discharged because of perforated eardrums.

Terkel then went to work for various radio stations in Chicago, doing sports and commentary. In 1945 he received his own show on WENR, The Wax Museum. The show ran for two years. It was in 1949 that he received another radio show (later transferred to television), Stud's Place. The show lasted until 1952, when Terkel's liberal leanings caused NBC to cancel the series. Not able to get a job in broadcasting, Terkel turned to the theatre once more. After hearing Woodie Guthrie (one of Terkel's favourites) on WFMT, he manged to get a job there. In the end, Terkel would work 45 years at WFMT, hosting an hour of interviews, commentary, and music.

It was in 1960 that Pantheon Books' editor and publisher, Andre Schiffrin, decided he wanted an American version of Report From a Chinese Village by Jan Myrdal. Schifrin hired Terkel to write the book eventually titled Division Street. Just as Report From a Chinese Village collected interviews with the average Chinese citizen living in a village, Division Street collected interviews with average Americans from Chicago. Ultimately, Terkel would write eighteen books, including Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do and The Good War (for which he won a Pulitzer).

Studs Terkel was among the most talented interviewers and writers around. He had a genuine curiosity about people's lives and a friendly demeanour that just made people open up to him. As a result, individuals were much more willing to give him details of their lives. This showed on both Terkel's radio show and his books. There were very few interviewers quite as skilled as he was.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Horror Movie Quiz

I have to apologise for not getting last month's quiz out on time. I can only plead that I was busy and it seemed to me that posts relating to Halloween were of more importance.

For those of you wondering what I am talking about, Beth of the lovely voice laid down a challenge for me at the first of the year. The challenge was simply this: I must create and post one pop culture quiz a month in A Shroud of Thoughts. The quizzes can have a single theme or simply be a collection of random things. At the end of 2008, the reader who has accumulated the most points throughout the year will win a pop culture related prize. For those of you curious about the prize, I decided that it will be a pop culture related key chain of the winner's choice, to cost no more than $5.00 (minus sales tax). The price limit is for the simple fact that I can't afford platinum plated key chains... I'll provide the answers a week from now.

1, What two actors were offered the role of the Monster in the 1931 Universal classic Frankenstein before Boris Karloff?

2, What 1933 movie was based on H. G. Wells' novel The Island of Dr. Moreau?

3. In what 1934 film did Boris Karloff played a devil worshipping villain opposite Bela Lugosi's hero?

4. What was the first horror film produced by Val Lewton?

5. In what film, produced by Val Lewton, did Boris Karloff play the evil apothecary general of an asylum?

6. In what year was Hammer's version of Dracula first released?

7. In what 1968 Hammer film did Christohper Lee play an individual fighting off Satanists?

8. What 1968 movies was originally named Night of Anubis and Night of the Flesh Eaters?

Night of the Living Dead

9. In what 1977 movie did Robert Vaughn provide the voice of an egomanical computer?

10. Upon what novella was Clive Barker's 1987 movie Hellraiser based?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Writer and Director Michael Crichton Passes On

Writer and director Michael Crichton passed yesterday at the age of 66. The cause was cancer.

Crichton was born On October 23, 1942 in Chicago. He grew up in Rosalyn, New York. Crichton attended Harvard College in Cambridge, Massachusett. He was at the University of Cambridge as a Henry Russell Shaw Travelling Fellow from 1964 to 1965. In 1969 he graduated from Harvard Medical School with a doctorate in Medicine. He did post graduate work at the Jonas Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, from 1969 to 1970.

Crichton sold his first novel, Odds On, in 1966 under the pen name John Lange. He sold several more novels under the pseudonym by 1969. That same year he published his first novel, The Andromeda Strain, that same year. Over the next several years Crichton would publish several different novels, including The Terminal Man (1971), Eaters of the Dead (1986), Congo (1980), Jurassic Park (1990), Prey (2002), and Next (2006). Crichtn also wrote five non fiction books, including Five Patients, Electronic Life, and Travels.

Many of Crichton's novels would be adapted to the big screen, including The Andromeda Screen, The Terminal Man, Jurassic Park, The 13th Warrior (based on Eaters of the Dead), and Timeline. Crichton also directed films, the first being Westworld, released in 1973. He also directed Coma, The First Great Train Robbery, Looker, Runaway, and Physical Evidence.

Michael Crichton was also involved in television. He directed the TV film Pursuit, first aired in 1972. He also created the TV series ER and was that series' executive producer. This year A&E aired a TV movie based on The Andromeda Strain.

Many discovered Michael Crichton with the movie Jurassic Park. Myself, I discovered Crichton with the movie The Andromeda Strain back in the Seventies. My brother and I watched the film on The ABC Sunday Night Movie. Both of us were hooked. Naturally I would watch The Terminal Man and Westworld. I would also start reading Crichton's books. Over the years I have read The Andromeda Strain, The Terminal Man, Eaters of the Dead, and many others. He has always been one of my favourite writers.

Although he was generally not classed as such, I have always thought of Michael Crichton as a science fiction writer. Indeed, both his novels and movies often centred on the idea of scientific advancements gone haywire, including Westworld, Jurassic Park, and many others. Not only did Crichton's works deal largely with science gone awry, but they generally had a fairly firm scientific basis, even including actual scientific documents. This gave his books a realism often lacking in many works of science fiction. This realism was aided by the fact that Crichton wrote many of his books as fictional documents. The Andromeda Strain is largely such a document, while Eaters of the Dead is a fictionalised account of Ahmad ibn Fadlan's account of the Rus from the 10th century CE. Many authors would not be able to succeed using techniques, but Crichton was a best selling writer from early on. Not only were his novel grounded in science, bu they were also very entertaining and very well written. It is sad to think that he gone, having died relatively young.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Novelist William Wharton Passes On

Painter turned writer William Wharton passed on Ocober 29 at the age of 82. The cause was infection.

Wharton was born Albert William Du Aime Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on November 7, 1925. He attended Upper Darby High School there. During World War II he volunteered to serve the United States Army. Following the war he attended the University of California, Los Angeles where he majored in art and later received a doctorate in psychology. He taught for a time in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

In 1960 Wharton moved his family to Europe where he made a living as an impressionist painter. He settled in Paris in in 1968. His first novel, Birdy was published in 1978. The novel, roughly based on Wharton's own experiences during World War II, dealt with two friends and Vietnam veterans, one of whom eventually goes to a mental hospital thinking he is a canary. Birdy proved highly successful, even being adapted as a motion picture released in 1984. Wharton would follow Birdy up with seven more novels in English, including Dad and A Midnight Clear. He would publish several more books in Spanish. Dad was made in to a movie released in 1989, while A Midnight Clear was adapted as a TV movie in 1992. Many works were at least partially autobiographical.

William Wharton was one of those few modern day writers loved by both critics and the public. Not only did his novels sell well, but he also received his share of critical acclaim. Aside from being partially autobiographical, Wharton's novels shared in common the fact that he wrote them with a good deal of detail. By way of example, Birdy contains a good deal of information on canaries. Wharton was one of the few writers today whose books not only sold well, but received good notices from critics as well.

Monday, November 3, 2008

E. Roger Muir R.I.P.

E. Roger Muir, executive producer and co-creator of Howdy Doody, passed on October 30 at the age of 89. The cause was a stroke.

Muir was born Ernest Roger Muir in Alberta, Canada on December 16, 1918. When Muir was twelve the family moved to Minneapolis. Muir attended the University of Minnesota, majoring in photography. In 1941 he was draughted into the United States Army and assigned to the Army's film production unit. It was there that he met Warren Wade, who had worked for NBC before the war. Upon returning home Muir received a job at NBC from a referral by Wade.

Muir began directing shows at NBC, including the quiz show Who Said That, Your Hit Parade, and The Wide, Wide World. Muir would go onto help create Howdy Doody. He produced the show for its entire run, from 1947 to 1960. It was Muir who came up with the idea of having Howdy Doody run for president of the boys and girls in the 1948 election. Once Howdy Doody ended, Muir and Nick Nicholson founded their own production company. Among the shows they produced were Concentration and The Newlywed Game. During the 1976 to 1977 season Muir attempted a revival of The Howdy Doody Show. It only lasted one season.

As co-creator and producer of The Howdy Doody Show, E. Roger Muir made a lasting impact on pop culture. It was easily among the most successful children's shows with which early Baby Boomers grew up. While its Seventies revival failed and even clips of the show are rarely seen today, then, Muir undoubtedly had an impact on over half of one generation of Americans.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Tony Hillerman Passes On

Novelist Tony Hillerman passed on October 26 at the age of 83.

Tony Hillerman was born on May 27, 1925, in Sacred Heart, Oklahoma. Growing up during the Dust Bowl, his family had very little money much of the time. His home was on territorial lands of the Potawatomi Tribe, where he attended St. Mary’s Academy and later high school there. He attended Oklahoma A&M College before enlisting in the United States Army during World War II. By the end of the war he had a Silver Star, a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. Following World War II he attended the University of Oklahoma where he studied journalism. Following graduation he would work as a crime reporter for The Borger News-Herald in Texas, city editor of The Morning Press-Constitution in Lawton, Oklahoma, a political reporter in Oklahoma City, a United Press International bureau manager in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and executive editor of The Santa Fe New Mexican.

After seventeen years in the newspaper business, Hillerman shifted gears and enrolled at the University of New Mexico. He received a master's degree in journalism and went on to teach journalism there. He eventually became chairman of the journalism department at the University of New Mexico. After witnessing a a Navajo Enemy Way ceremony for a soldier there, Hillerman moved to Crownpoint, New Mexico. The ceremony would also become the basis of his first novel, The Blessing Way (published in 1970), which introduced Navajo Tribal Police Lt. Joe Leaphorn. Leaphorn was a realist who, though well acquainted with Navajo customs, was well versed in Anglo-American logic and deductive reasoning. In 1980, in the novel People of Darkness, Hillerman introduced the character of Officer Jim Chee. Unlike Lt. Leaphorn, Officer Chee was well acquainted with Navajo tradition and even training to become a healer. Younger than Leaphorn, he tends to be impatient and a bit of a hot head at times.

Hillerman would team the two characters up in his novel Skinwalkers. Teaming up the sceptical Leaphorn and the more supernaturally inclined Chee proved to be jut the right formula for a hit. Skinwalkers would prove to be Hillerman's best selling novel up to that time and his breakthrough novel. Leaphorn would remain a team for the rest of their novels. Hillerman would see his novels adapted to other media. His novel The Dark Wind would be made into a motion picture, released in 1991. Made for the small screen would be adaptations of Skinwalkers (2002), Coyote Waits (2003), and A Thief of Time (2004).

Hillerman was one of the most talented mystery writers of our time. Although not the first novelist to write about a Native American detective (others, such as Manly Wade Wellman, had featured them in their works), he was perhaps the writer who informed his books with Native culture more than any other. All of the Leaphorn and Chee books contain a good deal of information on Navajo tradition, including rituals. In fact, beginning with Skinwalkers, many of the novels centre on Leaphorn and Chee's differing views on Navajo religion. That Hillerman included so much of Navajo culture in his books gave them a depth that many mystery novels lack. Of course, Hillerman's mysteries were also intriguing and well written, setting them above most other mystery novels written today. He won't soon be forgotten.