August 29: Elliott Gould
Elliott Gould, whose acting career began as a child model and extends to present-day film and television performances, was born in Brooklyn on this date in 1938. Gould is best known for his roles as Trapper John in Robert Altman’s M*A*S*H (1970) and as one of the two swapping couples in Paul Mazursky’s Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969), as well as for his role on Broadway across from Barbra Streisand (whom he married for several years) in I Can Get It For You Wholesale (1962). During his teen years, Gould was a performer on the Borscht Belt, where, according to his father, “When an entertainer needed a stooge, Elliott would be the one they’d choose. He could do a dozen dialects — German, Italian, Jewish, all of them.” In 1957, reports People magazine, “at the age of 18, Gould phoned a Broadway producer and impersonated an agent singing the praises of some kid named Elliott Gould. Miraculously the ploy worked, and soon after Gould received a call from the producer offering him a spot in the chorus of the Broadway musical Rumple.” To see the final scene from Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, look below.
“My problem was I let myself become known before I knew myself.” –Elliott Gould
August 28: A Superior Sculptor
Sculptor, furniture maker, and visual artist Roy Superior, who has been described as “an absurdist, a risk taker, an ever-curious observer of the human condition,” died at 78 in Williamsburg, Massachusetts, on this date in 2013. With an MFA from Yale, he taught wood sculpture and furniture design at the University of the Arts of the Philadelphia College of Art and Design, where he served as chairman of the crafts department and was head of the wood program for 16 years. He also taught printmaking, drawing and painting at the University of Hartford and at Hampshire College. His work can be found in many private and public collections, including the Smithsonian Museum of American Art Archives. He was also a first-rate jazz clarinetist and an afficianado of the good life, as indicated by the title of his posthumous 2014 show at the Center for Art in Wood in Philadelphia, “Patent Models for the Good Life.” To see a video showing much of his ingenious work, look below.
“The art world tends to pigeonhole and categorize artists; whether I am called a painter, sculptor or woodworker, is of little concern. I am what I am—an artist that is motivated to work by an inexplicable internal necessity to make objects and images that react to, record and celebrate my life and surroundings. In lieu of having an identity crisis, I combine painting with my three dimensional work.” —Roy Superior
August 27: Gentle Giant
Phil Shuman, the eldest of three brothers who were the core members of the progressive rock band Gentle Giant in the 1970s, was born in Glasgow, Scotland on this date in 1937. A multi-instrumentalist, Shulman played alto and tenor saxophone, flute, clarinet, trumpet, mellophone, piano, and occasional percussion, and sang lead on some of the band’s more jazz- and folk-influenced material. Gentle Giant had expertise on more than forty instruments and a wide vocal range, and with the stated goal of “expand[ing] the frontiers of contemporary popular music at the risk of becoming very unpopular.” While they never achieved the commercial success of other progressive rock pioneers such as Yes, Jethro Tull, or Genesis, Gentle Giant was the most experimental and innovative among them. Shulman left the band after their third album, in 1972, because of tensions with his younger brothers and to forsake the life of a touring musician and return, he said, to “two sons, lovely little daughter, a wife who was getting lonelier and lonelier.” He retired from music altogether and worked as a teacher and in retail sales. To see Gentle Giant in 1970, look below. To see the band live in concert in 1975, after Shulman’s departure, look below that.
“We grew up in a house full of musicians and instruments…I started learning trumpet when I was 5 just because it was there and then took up violin when I was 7. We were made to practice for an hour a day at least, when we really wanted to go out and play. . . . eventually I wanted to do it anyway…I wasn’t formally taught at all.” –Phil Shulman
August 26: The Physicist and J Street
Edward Witten, the first physicist to receive the Fields Medal, considered to be the Nobel Prize for mathematicians, was born in Baltimore on this date in 1951. Witten was working at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study when he received the medal in 1990 for his work on the mathematical implications of quantum field theory and string theory. In 2012, he was one of nine physicists who shared the $27 million Fundamental Physics Prize by Yuri Milner, a Russian high-tech investor — and Witten donated a large part of his share to J Street, the Jewish peace lobby, saying that “I believe that the need for a two-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the central issue before the Jewish world. A lot of people unfortunately do not realize that the chance for such a solution is slipping away, or understand the implications if it does.” Witten’s numerous awards include a 1982 MacArthur Award, a 2002 National Medal of Science, a 2005 Pythagoras Award, a 2010 Isaac Newton Medal, and many others.
“[T]he beauty of Einstein’s equations… is just as real to anyone who’s experienced it as the beauty of music. We’ve learned in the 20th century that the equations that work have inner harmony.” —Edward Witten
August 25: The Jewish Will Rogers
“Meyer the Buyer,” a radio show based on Harry Hershfield’s cartoon character, Abie the Agent, premiered on this date in 1932, starring Alan Reed, Sr. (Herbert Theodore Bergman), who would later supply the voice for Fred Flintstone. The show lasted only sixteen weeks, while Hershfield’s strip ran from 1914 to 1940. Hershfield’s career as a cartoonist began in 1899 at age 14 with a comic strip about a dog, “Homeless Hector,” for the Chicago Daily News. “Abie the Agent,” his best-known strip, dealt with urban Jewish life, with many Yiddish-flavored gags. Hershfield entered radio in 1940 and earned the nickname, “the Jewish Will Rogers,” with “Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One” and “Can You Top This?” among other shows. He also hosted the first demonstration of home television, broadcast in New York on August 20, 1930, a half-hour show screened in a store in the Hotel Ansonia, in the Hearst building, and in a home at 98 Riverside Drive, with a signal that traveled about six miles.
“New York is a city where everyone mutinies but no one deserts.” —Harry Hershfield