Thursday 21 February 2013

Composing Dicks

Today we’re going to focus on two Richards who have written the soundtrack of your life. Between Sherman’s Disney stylings of your youth and Rodgers catchy musical tunes (beloved of glee clubs and grandmas everywhere), these Dicks have got you covered. When in doubt, play a Dick (or a song written by one, if you prefer).

Richard Morton Sherman was born on 12 June 1928 in New York City. By 1937, his family had settled in Beverly Hills; Richard is still in the area. I imagine it turned out to be a fortuitous move because Richard and his older brother Robert later teamed up to write songs for our favorite Disney movies.

Around 1958, the composer-songwriter duo of Richard and Robert was hired by Walt Disney (the man himself) to write songs at Walt Disney Studios. Richard’s work includes the scores to such classics as:

-The Sword in the Stone
-Mary Poppins
-The Jungle Book
-The Aristocats
-The Parent Trap
-Bedknobs and Broomsticks
-The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
-The Tigger Movie.

In addition, Richard and Robert wrote “It’s a Small World (After All)” for the 1964 New York World’s Fair. I always wondered from whence that song came! I thought maybe it was a folk tune or something. I should have known a Richard had a hand in it. All the best things come from Dicks.

Richard’s non-Disney scores include Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (which is based on a book by Ian Fleming, the man who created James Bond!) and Snoopy, Come Home.

Although Richard was nominated for Oscars (and other awards) a whole lot, he pretty much only ever won for Mary Poppins (and, more recently, for the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang stage musical). It’s a bit surprising he didn’t rake in more awards for his songs, but he’s gotten a bunch of Lifetime Achievement Awards, so it all evens out in the end.

Robert, Richard (playing piano), and Walt Disney singing

Richard Rodgers

Richard Charles Rodgers was born 28 June 1902 in New York City. He died on 30 December 1979, also in New York City. He wrote over 900 songs for 43 musicals, which is quite the output. Richard was well-rewarded for his composing talents: he was the first person to ever win the EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony). He also won a Pulitzer Prize; Richard and Marvin Hamlisch (another composer) are the only two people to have won all five of these awards. Damn!

Although Richard’s first lyrical partner was Lorenz Hart, he is most famous for being one-half of the Rodgers and Hammerstein duo. Richard and Oscar Hammerstein II’s first musical was Oklahoma! in 1943, which was … kind of a hit. Other highlights from their oeuvre are: Carousel (1945); South Pacific (1949), winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama; The King and I (1951); and The Sound of Music (1959). Obviously, these musicals have tons of hit songs including “Some Enchanted Evening” (in my grandma’s personal top ten), “Oklahoma!” (now the state song of Oklahoma), and “Edelweiss” (the last song Hammerstein wrote, which makes it even sadder). I also thought “Edelweiss” was a folk song. It is not, but has been sort-of adopted as one in parts of Austria (especially the Salzburg area), presumably for the benefit of tourists.

One of Richard’s songs has taken on an interesting life of its own. “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from Carousel has become a sport anthem, particularly in the UK. Apparently a group called Gerry and the Pacemakers recorded a cover of the song in 1963. The lead singer had some connection to the Liverpool Football Club, showed them an early demo tape, and eventually the club adopted the song. Apparently they sing it before all the games at Anfield Stadium. In addition, the phrase “You’ll Never Walk Alone” is emblazoned above the Shankly Gates at the stadium and even appears on the club’s crest. So yeah. All those hardened football hooligans are singing along to a show tune.

And the song’s influence didn’t end there. According to an interview with Queen’s Brian May, a bunch of fans serenaded the group with the song at the end of one of their concerts. That act then helped inspire the drafting of “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions.” Wow.

Oscar died in 1960. Richard had some success on his own, although his most notable work was probably the addition of two songs for the movie version of The Sound of Music (Richard wrote both the music and lyrics to “I Have Confidence” and “Something Good”).

According to the esteemed Wikipedia, Richard and Oscar were “the most successful partnership in American musical theatre history. Their work revolutionized the form. What was once a collection of songs, dances and comic turns held together by a tenuous plot became an integrated masterpiece.” Rock on, dudes (or jazz hands on, perhaps).

Richard Rodgers

Wednesday 13 February 2013

Short Notices

Sometimes I come across Richards who deserve recognition but about whom I really don’t have much to say (or care to say much). Here are a couple of those Richards.

Richard Monckton Milnes

I first stumbled across this Richard when researching Richard Burton (the explorer). I had written down that I should check Milnes out, but when I initially read his Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry I thought, “this guy is boring.” He was a gentleman who became a baron in 1863, wrote poetry of indifferent quality, and served as a member of Parliament. Then Wikipedia reminded me of why I had written down this man’s name:

“His apparently almost unsurpassed collection of erotic literature*, now in the British Library, was known to few in his lifetime."

*Hyde, Harford Montgomery (1965). A history of pornography. Heinemann. p. 14.

Now we’re talking! But that the extent of it, really, Follow this link (oscholars) for more on Richard and erotic literature.

Richard Dragon

Richard Dragon is a fictional character who appears in DC comics. I’m a little sad he’s fictional because Dick Dragon would be an awesome name to have in real life. Richard Dragon, as one might guess from his last name and stereotypes within our culture, is a martial arts expert. He used to be a thief, but he straightened out and became a fighter. He’s reportedly one of the best martial artists in the DC Universe. He trained Batman!

Also, in the 1970s Richard had his own comic called “Richard Dragon, Kung Fu Fighter.” That’s just awesome (and so very 1970s).

Sir Richard Branson

I’m sure you’ve heard of Richard Branson. He’s an obscenely rich British businessman (4th richest in the UK, apparently) who uses sexual double entendres as often as possible. His main ventures are named Virgin [insert whatever here] and his business books all have rather lewd titles. He’s made several world record attempts (many of them successful), which usually involve quickly crossing bodies of water in various vehicles. Like any good rich person, he’s also involved in a variety of humanitarian works. All in all, he’s a rather brash, colorful  character.

Wednesday 6 February 2013

Richard III and His Bones

Yesterday, 4 February 2013, was a special day: it was confirmed that archaeologists had found the bones of England’s King Richard III. Huzzah! In my circle of friends, family, and acquaintances, I am the biggest Richard III fan anyone knows, so I had people e-mailing the link to me all day. It was awesome to know so many people think of me when they think of Richard III. I have truly touched greatness ; )

Anyway, I’m going to provide a little play-by-play concerning the skeleton. I’m not a medical doctor, but I love Richard III, so here goes.

All pictures are from CNN via the University of Leicester.

This lovely shot of the full skeleton reveals that Richard III had some serious scoliosis. This gives some credence to the so-called Tudor Myth that Richard was a hunchback. He wasn’t a hunchback of the Quasimodo variety, but he would have had one shoulder higher than the other. He also probably would have been in substantial pain (not necessarily 24-7, but with a spine that curved he can’t have been comfortable), so maybe he didn’t have the friendliest visage around town. However, Richard’s skeleton offers no proof that he had a tail or spent two years gestating in his mother’s uterus, so we’re going to have to concede that the Tudor Myth contains both fact and fiction. Really, all the best myths do.

Scoliosis also affected Richard’s height. Presumably he would have been a bit stooped and the disease might have stunted his growth a little. Strangely enough, none of the news articles I read gave a height for Richard (surely they measured the bones?), but it’s safe to say he was shorter than his elder brother, Edward IV, who supposedly clocked in at over six feet tall.

The death blow. Richard’s skull has injuries to the right cheek and a big old hole at the top. Sounds like Richard died from blunt force trauma to the head – or getting smacked upside said head with a halberd (a nasty medieval weapon that is basically an axe on a big stick). No word on horses, but I don’t think one would have made a difference (sorry Shakespeare).

The bones do show evidence of mistreatment after death, which is consistent with historical accounts. There are cuts on various bones (such as the ribs) that suggest the victorious Tudor party had some fun with their enemy’s corpse. In addition, the head archaeologist (Richard Buckley) speculated that Richard’s hands were tied together (based on their placement when the body was discovered). This further suggests Richard’s body was subjected to some indignities.

Now where is the body going to rest? I’ve heard some people call for Westminster Abbey, but burial in Leicester Cathedral is almost guaranteed. Leicester Cathedral already has a memorial to Richard; putting his body underneath the rock wouldn’t be terribly difficult. I think a more interesting question is whether there’s going to be a funeral – and, if so, what kind. Richard, like the majority of medieval Europeans, was Catholic, but England is now a Protestant nation. Maybe a joint Anglo-Catholic funeral?

The other thing I find interesting is that the Richard III Society plans to use the discovery of the body to launch yet another case to rehabilitate Richard’s reputation. Okay. I understand using publicity for Richard to achieve publicity for your cause, but we found his bones, people, not a pile of letters he addressed to the “Princes in the Tower” in August 1485. We also now know Richard was a hunchback (so to speak): this actually gives legs to the Tudor Myth rather than contradicting it. I imagine Richard’s bones will renew cries to re-examine the princes’ bones, which are in Westminster Abbey and were last checked out in the 1930s. Whether those bones are the princes or not, though, the debate will never be over. The bones don’t have “we died in 1483” written on them, so even proving who they are doesn’t prove when they died. And if, by some chance, they aren’t the bones of the princes…. Well, maybe those guys are under a parking lot, too.

Finally, it is worth noting that Richard probably overcame a fair amount of hardship. His severe scoliosis would have made wearing armor, riding a horse, and waging war painful, so props to him. Granted, Richard didn’t have a lot of choice since he was a member of the military, noble class, but it couldn’t have been easy. Achieving the throne is rather impressive, too. Medieval thought linked an ugly appearance with an ugly soul (somewhat similar to the idea that leprosy – a disfiguring disease – was the result of sin on the part of the sufferer), so Richard sort of had the deck stacked against him. It took great force of will to get where he did. So yeah, Richard III probably was a cold, realpolitik-esque, heartless bastard. Most winners (even if their victory is short) were.