Anniversary: New report on Pearl Harbor & Arizona’s 50th U.S.S. Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor was dedicated 50 years ago, in 1962. Photo courtesy of Fotopedia FRIDAY, DECEMBER 7: A “date that will live in infamy” occurred 71 years ago today—the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, on Dec. 7, 1941—but the story of that day continues to unfold. Aside from the ongoing flow of documentaries, the Washington Post ran a never-before-published account just days ago, written by a fledgling Honolulu Star-Bulletin reporter. After more than seven decades, Elizabeth P. McIntosh—now 97—finally saw her story in print, which editors found to be too graphic for readers at the time.

Memorials will be held across the country today, while soldiers, veterans and visitors alike recall the dedication of the USS Arizona in 1962.

In the morning hours of Dec. 7, 1941, America’s naval base in Pearl Harbor, Hawai’i, was attacked by the Empire of Japan. (The U.S. Navy provides an overview with photos.) In the surprise attack, more than 2,400 Americans were killed and 1,100 wounded; four U.S. Navy battleships were destroyed and sank, while more equipment was destroyed. The day following the attack, the United States officially entered World War II and declared war on Japan. (Wikipedia has details.)


Anniversary: Vietnam Veterans Memorial turns 30 courtesy of FlickrTUESDAY, NOVEMBER 13: America’s reflection on the service and sacrifices of our veterans extends an extra day this year as the nation marks the 30th anniversary of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

The Vietnam War was a turningpoint in America’s response to our nation’s conflicts. This was our first “television war,” bringing the brutal conflict from Asian jungles to America’s living rooms each night at dinner time. Meanwhile, our huge and hopeful Baby Boom generation was heading into adulthood and facing an unpopular mandatory draft. The result on the homefront was a turbulent and often explosive clash over the war effort. Upon return home, many Vietnam Vets were met with aversion instead of honor; post-traumatic stress soared. As tribute to the men and women who lost their lives in that tragic conflict—the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was erected. (Check out the official site here.) As of May 2011, the Wall bore the names of 58,272 Vietnam Vets.

A somber march of thousands of Vietnam Vets paved the way to the Memorial wall on Nov. 13, 1982, visually announcing its public dedication. All laid eyes on a two reflective walls, each 246 feet long: the stone for the wall, hand-selected in India, was chosen to aesthetically represent the past and present together when a visitor sees his reflection and the etched names in the same glance. The current complex consists of three parts: the Three Soldiers statue, the Vietnam Women’s Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. (Wikipedia has details.) Approximately 3 million visitors view the Wall each year, and in 2007, it was ranked 10th on a “List of America’s Favorite Architecture.”


Looking for someone? Even if you can’t make it to D.C., the Virtual Wall now makes it possible to search for a name from any computer—just fill in search boxes at the Virtual Wall site. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund is also in search of photos of the 58,272 men and women on The Wall. If you have a photo of someone, contribute it to the Education Center at the Wall.

When Vietnam Vet John Devitt attended the 1982 Memorial dedication, he wanted others to experience the same healing he did—even if they couldn’t make it to Washington, D.C. He began brainstorming a “Traveling Wall,” and construction began with the use of his personal financing. Two years later, the three-fifths replica of the Wall was first displayed in Texas. Today, the exhibit visits approximately 20 cities each year and has an impressive waiting list; state troopers and citizens on motorcycles accompany the replica Wall as it travels cross-country. The Healing Wall left Portland, Oregon, yesterday. (Read the story in the Portland Observer.)

Michelangelo exhibits Sistine Chapel 500 years ago portion of the massive Sistine Chapel. Photo courtesy of FotopediaTHURSDAY, NOVEMBER 1: Even at a sweeping pace and a fresco style of painting, it took Michelangelo four years to finish detailing the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel—and 500 years ago today, the masterpiece was exhibited to the public. Fellow artist Giorgio Vasari described the pivotal event: “The whole world came running when the vault was revealed, and the sight of it was enough to reduce them to a stunned silence.” (Take a virtual tour of the chapel with help from the Vatican.) Sistine’s ceiling has inspired artists, theologians and visitors alike through the past five centuries, and it continues to inspire tens of thousands of visitors to the Vatican every year. Among other things, the Sistine Chapel is the Papal Chapel where bishops privately elect the next pope. To mark the anniversary, Pope Benedict XVI is repeating the vespers of Pope Julius II beneath the glorious ceiling to mark the half-millenium event.

Julius II was in the midst of a sweeping campaign to increase the Church’s power in Italy when he imagined a grand project: the painting of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. (Wikipedia has details.) The walls of the chapel had been painted two decades earlier, but the pope envisioned a piece of art so immense and layered in its complexity that it would endlessly stir conversations among the bishops who gathered there. Pope Julius asked—or, rather, demanded—that Michelangelo take on the job. Primarily a sculptor, Michelangelo hesitated and, when war broke out in Rome, he fled to continue sculpting elsewhere. Yet when war ended, Pope Julius returned to his powerful position at the Vatican, summoned Michelangelo for the project and signed a contract with the artist in May of 1508. (A Smithsonian article names the artist, on this 500th anniversary, a “genius.”)


In his early 30s, Michelangelo was already a renowned artist; when the contract was signed with Pope Julius, Michelangelo began studying, reading, and rereading the Bible—a practice that continued until the ceiling was finished. Many hold that Michelangelo was given free reign to design the scheme of the ceiling, and rather than base his figures on traditional works of art, he drew inspiration from scriptural words. Perhaps the most often imitated image is that of God’s hand touching the hand of Adam—an image that modern artists and authors believe is laced with even more meaning than meets the eye. Think “E.T.” and “2012” among other modern works. On Michelangelo’s ceiling, nine scenes from Genesis paint time from the Creation of Adam to the Drunkenness of Noah. Apostles, prophets, various biblical figures and more dot the painting’s landscape, to rally a total of 343 figures. Observers may notice hidden humor—such as a profane gesture by one cherub—but the overall message of the ceiling is humanity’s need for Salvation, offered by God through Jesus.


Michelangelo designed his own scaffold for the four-year project, and the holes used to support his platform were reused in the latest restoration project (1980-1999). Some argue that, when removing the layers of grime caused by centuries of candle smoke, the paintings were left lacking Michelangelo’s stunning highlights and shadows. (Get the story in The Australian.) Future preventative measures have led various suggestions, including a climate control system that will offset the humidity, dust and sweat brought in by 5 million tourists every year. Tourist numbers have doubled in the past 20 years, and the Vatican expects increasing numbers of Asian visitors to bring up the number even more. (Museum Director Antonio Paolucci assured the Vatican newspaper that the paintings would be protected for another 500 years.)

Tarzan, King of the Jungle, swings into his centennial, 2012: The King of the Jungle turns 100 this autumn—a birthday celebrated by the U.S. Postal Service with a new “Forever” commeorative stamp. In addition to millions of fans around the world, Tarzan also is celebrated by leading scientists and environmentalists, including Jane Goodall, who credits Tarzan with awakening interest in studying and protecting African wildlife.

Goodall is such a fan that she regularly talks about how Tarzan stories first sparked her own fascination with Africa and apes. As a girl, she said in one newspaper interview, “I took whichever book I was reading at the time up to the top of my favorite tree in the garden, a beech tree. There, I imagined myself living in the forest, living with and helping Tarzan. The more I read, the more passionately I fell in love with Tarzan.”

In another interview, Goodall admitted with a smile that she was a bit jealous of her namesake in the novels: “I thought she was a real wimp and that I would have made a better mate for Tarzan.”

When the first Disney animated Tarzan movie debuted in 1999, Chicago film critic Roger Ebert called Tarzan “the most durable movie character in history” and wrote: “Something deep within the Tarzan myth speaks to us. … Maybe it’s the notion that we can all inhabit this planet together, man and beast, and get along.”


Even the official Edgar Rice Burroughs biography, published online by the family-owned company that still controls his licenses, says that Burroughs was a flat-out failure at almost every career he tried—before he started writing fiction. As a young man, he had served with the U.S. Seventh Cavalry in Arizona, then later worked as a cowboy, shopkeeper, railroad policeman and even tried his hand at gold mining. At one low point in his career, he tried to sell pencil sharpeners. Desperate to succeed at something, he wrote up a fanciful story that he sent to the editor of All-Story Magazine. The manuscript was the first part of a novel that today is considered a landmark in the history of the science-fiction genre, titled Under the Moons of Mars in All-Story’s February 1912 issue.

Of course, Burroughs’ Martian science-fiction tales about John Carter aren’t so popular today. In fact, the Disney studios’ huge production of a live-action version of John Carter was released earlier this year and turned into a boxoffice bomb, so bad that it forced Disney to reshuffle its corporate leadership. The John Carter Martian stories were hugely successful throughout most of Burroughs’ life—but even his official biography admits that his literary instincts weren’t infallible. After the success of the Maritan tale in All-Story, he was eager to write a historical series set in the swashbuckling age of England’s greatest kings. Fortunately for millions of fans today, the All-Story editor rejected that idea out of hand and told Burroughs that he’d do much better if he stuck to “the damphool stuff”! SWINGS INTO POPULAR CULTURE: At left is the October, 1912, cover of All-Story magazine, followed in 1914 by the first book-length publication of a Tarzan tale, at right.Burroughs went back to his desk and began dreaming up fanciful tales, once again. In October 1912, the same year that Burroughs kicked off the blockbuster Martian series, he was back on the cover of All-Story with his first Tarzan yarn. Today, that creative output in 1912 is stunning. He had created two groundbreaking, genre-founding series in less than a year. That’s a record of literary innovation that few other writers could hope to claim. The first book-length Tarzan publication came two years later in 1914.

Want to read Tarzan and John Carter for free?

While the Burroughs’ family company still licenses some of the author’s creations, the bulk of his novels now are in public domain and are freely shared on the Project Gutenberg website. If you’ve never used that site, look around the indexes and you’ll find multiple e-editions of most books that can be uploaded into various e-readers. Or, if you prefer to go through the Amazon Kindle store, you’ll find several huge collections of his stories priced at just a few dollars that are one click away from your device.

To give you a feel for Burroughs’ prose, here are the early lines in his first Tarzan novel in which he describes Tarzan’s parents—British aristocrats—disappearing into Africa on their fateful journey into the jungles, where young Tarzan later would emerge:

We know only that on a bright May morning in 1888, John, Lord Greystoke, and Lady Alice sailed from Dover on their way to Africa. A month later they arrived at Freetown where they chartered a small sailing vessel, the Fuwalda, which was to bear them to their final destination. And here John, Lord Greystoke, and Lady Alice, his wife, vanished from the eyes and from the knowledge of men.


Want to stump friends with a Tarzan movie trivia question? Ask, “Who was the first movie Tarzan?” One answer is that we don’t know for sure. Back in 1912, movie production was a Wild West of independent short silent films, so it is likely that early knock offs of Burroughs’ creation were made with unknown actors. The best answer is: Elmo Lincoln, a shaggy haired, barrel-chested strong man who appeared in a number of D.W. Griffith silent epics before playing Tarzan in 1918. He was such a hit that he made a sequel, then also played the King of the Jungle in a serial—a series of short movie cliffhangers that were used in movie theaters to keep the audience coming back week after week.

Olympic Hero Johnny Weissmuller takes over THE COVER TO VISIT THE AMAZON PAGE.The most celebrated movie Tarzan was Johnny Weissmuller, who had racked up five Olympic medals for swimming and one for water polo before taking on the role of the first talking Tarzan in the 1932 feature film that made him an international celebrity. Burroughs, still actively working at that time, said publicly that he liked Weissmuller in the role—but the author strongly disliked a key feature of the movie script: Tarzan suddenly became barely articulate. Burroughs’ character was an brilliant, literate figure who could move back and forth between civilized and natural worlds. In fact, Burroughs got so disgusted as one Weissmuller movie after another rolled out of Hollywood that he personally supported the creation of the Herman Brix Tarzan series with a far more articulate hero. Care to read more? Wikipedia has an extensive Johnny Weissmuller overview, plus an article on Herman Brix (actually Bruce Bennett) that describes the creation of his Tarzan films. And, if you’re really fascinated by this part of our story—you’ll want to check out Wikipedia’s very detailed overview of Tarzan in film and other non-print media.

Want to relive the greatest of Weismuller’s performances? Today, the best available DVD set of the Weissmuller films starts with The Tarzan Collection Starring Johnny Weissmuller, a six-film collection now available from Amazon. WARNING: The early Tarzan movies are rough stuff to watch today, quite literally. Many Baby Boomers and older adults fondly remember these black-and-white movies from endless television reruns. But, if you’re thinking of showing these films to your kids today—think twice. The early Weissmuller films involve many jarring scenes of humans killing the very animals that, today, Jane Goodall and other Tarzan fans are trying to save. Even Tarzan himself, an overall defender of his wild domain, is shown wiping out one fierce creature after another. Plus, the racial attitudes of the 1930s seem ridiculously biased, today.

TARZAN AND HIS MATE, RELIGIOUS LEADERS & NUDE SCENES:’s impossible to overemphasize Tarzan’s impact on global culture over the past century. Not only did Burroughs’ tales awaken a new appreciation of ecology and cross-cultural conflict—but the actual production of books and movies about Tarzan over the past 100 years charts our ever-changing values about nature, morals, religion and the environment.

One thing that’s great about the six-film DVD set (shown above) is that Turner decided to restore the nude scenes to the 1934 sequel Tarzan and His Mate. This film was a milestone in the tangled and controversial history of the creation of a Hollywood Production Code in 1934. Religious leaders across the United States, especially Catholic leaders, built such a persuasive campaign against Hollywood values that studio bosses agreed to meet with their critics and hammer out a code of self censorship to avoid the potential of federal legislation.

The first movie to run afoul of the Production Code was Tarzan and His Mate. Maureen O’Sullivan, Weissmuller’s costar, declined to shoot a long swimming sequence in which Tarzan and Jane were to demonstrate their ultimate back-to-nature relationship by skinny dipping in a deep river. Instead, Weissmuller and the producers turned to another Olympic swimming medalist, Josephine McKim, who agreed to double for O’Sullivan and shoot three versions of the swimming sequence: partially clothed, topless and nude. The studio planned to distribute three versions of the film to appropriate regions of the country, but the Production Code enforced a re-cut of the main negative to block any nudity.

In preparing the films for DVD release (and occasional theatrical revivals around the country), Turner has restored the original nude footage. As retored, it is an eye-popping scene when it shows up in a vintage black and white film, but today it would likely earn only a PG rating.


Today, Tarzan fans can pick almost any chapter in Tarzan’s long and complex media history and explore cross-cultural themes. For example, Prince Valiant creator Hal Foster—widely regarded as one of the greatest comic storytellers in history—took the helm of the Tarzan comic strip for a remarkable run that is highly sought-after by collectors of comics to this day. Hal Foster immediately headed Tarzan into adventurous relationships with the French—borrowing on Burroughs’ own stories, which gave a key role to French influence on Tarzan’s development. Most American fans today have no idea how extensively Tarzan pioneered cross-cultural relationships.

One of the biggest religous questions involving Tarzan focuses on Johnny Weissmuller’s ethnic and religious origins. The Wikipedia version of Weissmuller’s biography lists various ways in which his family (originally from the region that today is Romania-Hungary) can be considered fully Christian, including baptismal records. Nevertheless, a widespread belief that Weissmuller’s family was at least partially Jewish persists to this day—and, more importantly, was widely believed by Jews early in the 20th century.

Dr. Rafael Medoff, director of the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, recently published a lengthy overview of the important impact of Tarzan—Weissmuller himself, the Tarzan myth and even one Tarzan movie producer—on Jewish aspirations. Whatever the accurate history might be about Weissmuller’s origins, his Tarzan persona was widely regarded as a heroic Jewish figure. Medoff’s lengthy article in the Algemeiner online newspaper points out that Weissmuller’s Tarzan was so popular among Jews in the 1930s and 1940s that many top Jewish writers produced their own Tarzan fan fiction in which Tarzan played a role in helping Jewish refugees.


This is one centennial celebration that’s not merely looking into the distant past—because Tarzan clearly has a lively future ahead of him. Just as the iconic man-beast has been swinging through cross-cultural conflicts for 100 years—he will continue shaping our hopes and fears in the future.

Right now, the Hollywood Reporter says Spike TV is shooting episodes for “UrbanTarzan,” a show featuring extreme animal handler John Brennan that will premiere in the spring of 2013. Spike TV feels this is a perfect fit for its “male-oriented” audience. No, this series doesn’t head into the jungles. This real-life show will feature Brennan tracking down and removing potentially dangerous animals from American neighborhoods—an escaped python one week, an escaped lion the next, and so on.’s history in comic strips and comic books is as fascinating and full of quirky cultural turns as his history in print, TV and movies. Some great—and some not-so-great—comic artists tackled the Lord of the Jungle over the past century. For true fans of comic history, the bombs are almost as interesting as the crowning moments in Tarzan’s comic history. Overall, the gems—like Hal Foster’s original run with the comic strip—are highly collectible to this day. Looking ahead, a pair of talented comic book creators, Arvid Nelson and Robert Castro, are huge Burroughs fans. They’ve created Martian comics, based on Burroughs’ science-fiction tales, but their most popular new collaboration is Lord of the Jungle, coming out in January 2013 in a collection available from Amazon. Nelson and Castro claim that they are trying to produce the closest pulp version of Burroughs’ original stories that we’ve seen for many years. Their original single-issue comic books, which will be reproduced in the January collection, certainly are full of rip-roaring, muscle-bulging action.

Twilight fans also may recognize Tarzan’s latest portrayer in the upcoming 3-D take on the century-old series, as Kellan Lutz (aka Emmett Cullen) just received the starring role in the newest live-action Tarzan movie.

Want ideas for kids? Try these ideas for classroom activities, courtesy of eHow. If your child really wants to take a walk on the wild side, craft a Tarzan Halloween costume, with instructions at Disney’s FamilyFun.

Got your own Tarzan story to share? Please, email us at [email protected]

Originally published at, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.


Anniversary: 50 years for Beatles’ first single in public domainTUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 11: A group once self-described as “more popular than Jesus” recorded their first single 50 years ago today. Of course, the Beatles were only dreaming of fame as they recorded their first single in London, “Love Me Do” (with “P.S. I Love You” on the flip side). Principally written by Paul McCartney, the Beatles’ first song was completed by a 16-year-old and his friend, John Lennon.

Where did the song originate? A now-famous school notebook held jotted notes that the two friends would eventually turn into songs, and the words “Another Lennon-McCarney Original” topped each page of the notebook. Once released, the first single immediately grabbed attention for its described “blunt working class northerness,” which rang “the first faint chime of a revolutionary bell.” The single was released in the UK and reached the 17th spot on the UK chart. The group was met with overwhelming favor in the United States, however, where “Love Me Do” hit no. 1 in 1964.


When Lennon first made the remark in an interview for a British fan magazine, there was no public outcry. It was deemed an honest comment about how startled the Beatles were over their fans’ frenzy.

But in the religiously conservative United States? Few comments from rock stars have ever stirred such public opposition. Shortly after the American outcry, Lennon—albeit begrudgingly—apologized for his words, insisting that he had only been stating a point of view. At a conference, Lennon described his belief that God is “not as an old man in the sky. I believe that what people call God is something in all of us.”

Although the band’s press officer apparently claimed that all of the Beatles had abandoned organized religion by 1964, the fact is that they dabbled in Hinduism at points in their career and even studied under the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. George Harrison continued belief in the Hare Krishna tradition until his death, and produced the single “Hare Krishna Mantra” in 1969. Lennon, on the other hand, continued to discard religious teachings and wrote lyrics such as “I don’t believe in Jesus” and “Imagine … no religion, too.”

‘Gospel According to the Beatles’ is that the last word on the Beatles and faith? Hardly! Many analysts argue that the Beatles actually were in the vanguard of young people rejecting “organized religion” in favor of deeper spiritual values and global ideals. If that sounds like a vague concept, ReadTheSpirit recommends The Gospel According to the Beatles, a wonderfully thought-provoking book published by British journalist and music expert Steve Turner.

In his book, Turner admits that many readers may think his argument is preposterous. Yet, throughout the book, he describes many ways the Beatles ushered in a new era of spiritual experimentation. With their strong influence on a generation of young adults, they put a friendly face on Eastern religious traditions, they welcomed bearded Asian sages, they experimented with hallucinogenic drugs and told the world what they found in such trips, and they generally promoted transcendence and a search for new kinds of peace to millions of followers.Turner argues that the subsequent “New Age Movement” wouldn’t have flowered as fully without the Beatles’ pioneering influence.

Turner writes: “Whether or not we think it fitting that a pop group should be looked to for guidance on such matters—that’s what happened.”


The Beatles recorded “P.S. I Love You” with a session drummer; shortly following, Ringo became the principle drummer. In “Love Me Do” and “P.S. I Love You,” Ringo played a tambourine and a maraca.

Paul McCartney recently announced two new stops for his On the Run tour, in St. Louis and Houston; rumors have also been spreading online that McCartney could be heading to Canada this fall.

10 Years for American Idol; 100 Years for John Cage Clarkson as she received one of the Women’s World Awards in 2009 in Vienna Austria, a program to honor women making a difference in the world that was co-founded by Nobel Peace Prize winner Mikhail Gorbachev. launched. TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 4: Just 10 years ago, Kelly Clarkson belted out her versions of A Moment Like This, Respect and Before Your Love—to become Ameria’s first American Idol. In the process, she and Idol forever changed American pop culture. Over the past decade, Americans have come to expect that their votes will matter in crowning future pop stars.

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 5: A century ago, the late John Cage (who died in 1992) was born in Los Angeles to an inventor father and a journalist mother. Cage’s reputation for daring experiments in music ran smack into the middle of the Simon Cowell idol-making machine in 2010, when a popular groundswell in Great Britain tried to defeat a Cowell campaign with votes for Cage’s surprisingly silent 4’33” during the Christmas season.

How fitting that these anniversaries converge!

Remember Clarkson before she became a star?

Today, Clarkson is everywhere in pop culture and even has a reputation as a humanitarian advocate on behalf of proudly accepting one’s natural weight. Clarkston is widely lauded for performing around the world while shunning any undue attention to watching her weight. The singer is fit and as popular as ever, but newspaper and magazine profiles report that fans appreciate her pride in her own less-than-model-like physique.

Ten years ago, Americans met the first—and most successful, to date—winner of American Idol (check out the official site). Just after the season ended, Clarkson released A Moment Like This as a single and the tune went on to break a 38-year-old record for the biggest jump to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. TV ratings agencies show that Idol has been the most-watched TV series from 2005 to 2011—a record—and Clarkson alone has garnered more than $23 million in worldwide album sales since 2002. The show is scheduled to resume in early 2013.

This week, Idol fans are buzzing about the Season 12 judge selections: Early reports are that Mariah Carey will be joining rapper Nicki Minaj and country singer Keith Urban. (Read more at FOX News.) Even FOX Entertainment president Kevin Reilly seems excited about Carey’s new spot on the show. “I think it’s the biggest recording artist that any of these shows have ever had,” Reilly told news outlets. “It’s an artist that many contestants have tried to emulate.” Carey sealed the deal for a whopping $17 million for the season, joining Simon Cowell in ranks of highest-paid Idol judges.

Religion and Idol? Oh, yes. Just last season, finalist Colton Dixon stirred up controversy over his overtly Christian comments on the show and in social media. (The Hollywood Reporter has the story.) While warned that he might lose fans over the comments, Dixon made no efforts to hide his faith. After singing “Everything” and bringing judges to tears, Dixon posted to Facebook that he believes “one hundred percent” that God gave him his voice. He continued, “Anything that I can sing that’s directed to Him … It’s just music that moves you where you’re just like, ‘Wow, God, I feel you in this.’ That was totally me tonight.” Will religious themes arise in Season 12 of Idol? Fans will have to watch to find out!

John Cage Irony: A Musician Best Remembered for Silence’ll enjoy clicking back to read our 2010 story about the campaign to beat Simon Cowell at his own game by promoting John Cage’s infamous composition of 4 minutes and 33 seconds of silence. That story also includes a marvelous video of a full-scale British production of the Cage composition.

Update on that 2010 competition: Our story was published before the end of the rivalry. When the dust … errr, snowflakes cleared, Cage’s composition didn’t reach No. 1, but it did rise all the way to No. 21 in the UK singles chart!

Throughout his career, Cage experimented with instrumental sound and was, interestingly, motivated by elements of East and South Asian cultures. Acclaimed one of the most influential American composers of the 20th century, Cage led the world in post-war avant-garde composition. (Wikipedia has details.) When he wasn’t placing objects between or on the hammers of a piano to create a unique sound, Cage was writing modern dance pieces and drawing inspiration from Zen Buddhism. Today, his best-known composition is that 4 minutes and 33 seconds of silence, which calls listeners to not listen to silence but, instead, to the symphony of sounds around them and in their environment. In a 1957 lecture, Cage furthered this idea by proclaiming music as “a way of waking up to the very life we’re living.”

This week, venues around the world will be paying tribute to Cage’s centennial with concerts and lectures, such as the drama center at the University of Michigan. Can’t make it to a concert? Click through the LA Times’ interactive timeline of John Cage’s Los Angeles (where he spent most of his childhood) or read through his story in an LA Times article. An alternative? Pay your own tribute by setting a timer for 4 minutes and 33 seconds, closing your eyes, and taking in the sounds all around.

Originally published at, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

Anniversary: Centennial birthday of Gene Kelly the Blu-ray cover to visit its Amazon page.THURSDAY, AUGUST 23: “He would want to be remembered for changing the look of dance on film and creating a particular American style of dance,” says his widow Patricia Ward Kelly in a new interview with the Biography website. She was a main participant in the July series celebrating Kelly’s life, work and films hosted at the Lincoln Center in New York City.

Kelly remains a very popular movie star. Not only is this his 100th birthday—it’s also the 60th anniversary of one of his most famous films: Singin in the Rain (now available in a new 60th Anniversary Blu-ray edition). Here’s a tip on that Blu-ray release: Amazon currently is selling it as a very low price; the 2-disc DVD version has been priced at more than $30, but the Blu-ray is listed by Amazon at around $12 this summer.


In an era of dance revival in shows like “Glee” and “Dancing With the Stars,” Kelly has experienced a major upswing in popularity; add this to digital meeting grounds like Facebook and Twitter, and the late star is shining brighter than he has in decades. (‘Like’ “Gene Kelly the Legacy” here.) Don’t forget, too, that Kelly broke ground in onscreen dance—not only with his style but in feats like film’s first double exposure (Cover Girl, 1944) and dancing with a cartoon character (Anchors Aweigh, 1945). Ever the comedian, Kelly often said his favorite dance partner was Jerry the mouse “because he showed up on time and worked his little tail off.”


Kelly, born in Pittsburgh in 1912, was raised Irish-Catholic with what today sounds like a stereotypically strong Irish-American mother. His parents dreamed of seeing him become an attorney and perhaps even the first Irish-Catholic justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. That shaped Kelly’s educational goals, including his choice to major in economics at the University of Pittsburgh in the 1930s.

Biographer Alvin Yudkoff, in Gene Kelly: A Life of Dance and Dreams, reports that Kelly later claimed that he was an agnostic. That apparently was a fairly private protest against his family’s faith, Yudkoff writes. The shift was partly due to the grinding poverty Kelly witnessed in some predominantly Catholic countries.

Ironically, Yudkoff reports, Kelly was married three times before he died in 1996 at age 83—but his strict Catholic upbringing made him stand out among Hollywood luminaries as someone who did not engage in casual sexual relationships. While morally strict himself in many ways, he also became known in the 1950s as a political liberal. That’s when he teamed up publicly with Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall and the director John Huston in presenting a united front against Joe McCarthy’s congressional hearings and blacklisting campaigns.

MGM boss Louis B. Mayer was famous for his ill temper and sole focus on MGM’s bottom line. He didn’t like Kelly’s activism one bit, but he also staunchly defended his star, saying “He couldn’t possibly be a Commie because he is a Catholic boy who loves his mother.”


Turner Classic Movies will be showing several of Gene Kelly’s movies on his centennial, including “An American in Paris,” “Cover Girl,” “Anchors Aweigh” and, of course, “Singin’ in the Rain.” (Check out the schedule here.) Says TCM’s daytime weekend host Ben Mankiewicz of Kelly’s stereotype-busting grace: “Gene Kelly spoke about how Americans are afraid to apply the word ‘graceful’ to men as if it would diminish their masculinity, but he, himself, was maybe the most graceful man we ever saw on screen.”