Thursday, July 29, 2010

He'd find the same old bad news

Spanish filmmaker Luis Bunuel died on this day in 1983. He once said:

"Frankly, despite my horror of the press, I'd love to rise from the grave every ten years or so and go buy a few newspapers."

Although he was famously a lifelong atheist, Bunuel reportedly had a transforming religious experience at the end of his life.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

What's the big deal, anyway?

American writer Gertrude Stein died on this day in 1946.

When Stein was dying of cancer, she turned to her longtime companion Alice B. Toklas and whispered, "What is the answer?"

Her friend was at a loss for an answer. Stein said:

"In that case, what is the question?"

Friday, July 9, 2010

Th-there's a blank now

Master of voices Mel Blanc (Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Sylvester the Cat, Tweety Bird, Foghorn Leghorn, Yosemite Sam, Wile E. Coyote, Barney Rubble, Mr. Spacely), died on this day in 1989.

"Th-Th-That's all, folks!" -- Porky Pig.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Shelley on the shore

July 8: On this day in 1822, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley drowned in a sudden storm while sailing in his schooner, Don Juan, less than a month before his 30th birthday. The incident was surrounded by mysterious circumstances: The boat may or may not have been sabotaged; Shelley may or may not have been murdered; Shelley was despondent and may or may not have committed suicide.

The day following his death, the Tory newspaper The Courier reported: "Shelley, the writer of some infidel poetry, has been drowned, now he knows whether there is a God or not."

Shelley's body washed ashore and later, in keeping with quarantine regulations, was cremated on the beach near Viareggio. An 1889 painting by Louis Eduard Fournier, The Cremation of Shelley (shown here), is inaccurate. For one thing, in pre-Victorian times it was English custom that women not attend funerals, but Mary Shelley is depicted in the painting, kneeling at the left-hand side.

Shelley's heart was snatched from the funeral pyre by Edward Trelawny; Mary Shelley kept it for the rest of her life, and it was interred next to her grave at St. Peter's Church in Bournemouth. Shelley's ashes were interred in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome under an ancient pyramid in the city walls with the Latin inscription, Cor Cordium ("Heart of Hearts"), and a few lines from Shakespeare's The Tempest.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Really elementary, Watson

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, died on this day in 1930.

"What is the meaning of it, Watson?" said Holmes, solemnly, as he laid down the paper. "What object is served by this circle of misery and violence and fear?It must tend to some end, or else our universe is ruled by chance, which is unthinkable. But what end?" (The Adventure of the Cardboard Box.)

Monday, July 5, 2010

And moving on up, it is to be hoped

American writer William Faulkner died on this day in 1962. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1949.

"I can remember how when I was young I believed death to be a phenomenon of the body; now I know it to be merely a function of the mind—and that of the minds who suffer the bereavement. The nihilists say it is the end; the fundamentalists, the beginning; when in reality it is no more than a single tenant or family moving out of a tenement or a town." -- Dr. Peabody, in Faulkner's As I Lay Dying.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

They both still survive

John Adams died on this day in 1826, at the age of 91.

Adams was a delegate at both the first and second Constitutional Conventions and played a significant role in garnering European support for the American Revolution. He was the first Vice-President of the United States. He and Thomas Jefferson were correspondents for a quarter-century.

Adams resolved to live until the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence -- July 4, 1826. That morning he was awakened by his servant, who inquired if he knew what day it was.

"Oh, yes," Adams replied, "it is the glorious fourth of July. God bless it. God bless you all."

He then lapsed into unconsciousness. Later that afternoon, he awakened briefly.

"Thomas Jefferson still survives," he said before dying.

Jefferson had died earlier that day. His last words:

“Is it the Fourth? I resign my spirit to God, my daughter, and my country.”