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Friday, November 1, 2019

Famous and 65

Look who's turning 65 this month

November 3 - Godzilla, Japanese Film Monster

Before Jurassic Park, before Jaws, there was a gigantic monster fit to terrify kids glued to their parents’ black and white television set: Godzilla. Little did we know that Godzilla represented the United States and nuclear weapons. Less than a decade after the nuclear bombings on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Japanese created the prehistoric sea monster who is woken up and gets its energy and power from nuclear radiation.

Who can forget Godzilla’s distinctive roar, reproduced in several comics as Skreeeonk!. The original sound was made by rubbing a glove coated with pine-tar resin across the string of a contrabass and then, in a show of technical contrivance, slowing down the playback. Special effects were pretty basic in 1954, too. Godzilla was filmed using an actor in a bodysuit. The original suit, made out of a wire and bamboo body cavity covered in fabric and cushions coated in latex rubber, weighed more than 220 pounds. Not surprisingly, several of the actors who portrayed the early monster suffered under the suit’s weight, lack of ventilation and poor visibility. One actor was known to have endured oxygen deprivation, near-drowning, concussions, electric shocks and cuts to his legs from the wires that wore through rubber padding. Not an easy job!

Based loosely on a combination of an alligator, Stegosaurus, Tyrannosaurus and Iguanodon, Godzilla’s skin texture mimics the keloid scars common to survivors of Hiroshima. He (actually “it” since only American films give the monster a male gender) is portrayed as anywhere from 164 to 400 feet tall. Japanese directors wanted Godzilla to be just tall enough to peer over the highest buildings in Tokyo, but still small enough to hide among them. As the height of the buildings grew over time, so did the height of their film star.

Godzilla is now a cultural icon, recognized and imitated all over the world. In 2004, the character got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary film, Godzilla: Final Wars. Scientists have debated, tongue in cheek, over the monster’s true ancestry, and an asteroid belt is named after the Japanese rendition of its name, Gojira.

November 8 - Rickie Lee Jones, singer

Rickie Lee Jones grew up in Arizona, the daughter of a songwriter, painter and trumpet player father who worked as a waiter to pay the bills, and a mother who was raised in orphanages. The family moved to Olympia, WA when she was ten, and her father promptly abandoned them. After running away to her father’s at the ages of 14 and 15, Jones dropped out of high school as a junior, took the GED and went to college in Tacoma.

Her career found her playing coffee houses and bars in Los Angeles at the age of 19, and it didn’t take her long to get noticed. Two years later she was playing with Alfred Johnson in Hollywood. A year later, she sang “Easy Money” over the phone to Little Feat’s Lowell George. It turned out to be the only single off his last album before his death. In the same year, a demo tape caught the attention of an executive at Warner Bros. Records and several others. Jones signed up for a five-album deal.

Over the course of a long career, Jones recorded a bevy of musical styles: rock, rhythm and blues, blues, pop, soul and jazz. Her biggest hit was Chuck E.’s in Love, which made it to No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100. Jones became a two-time Grammy Award winner and garnered a place on NPR’s list of the 150 Greatest Albums Made by Women with Pirates, written after a painful breakup. She toured with the likes of Lyle Lovett, appeared on two covers of Rolling Stone magazine (one of them photographed by Annie Liebovitz), acted for television, and spent time bringing up daughter Charlotte and indulging in her favorite hobby, gardening, at their home in Tacoma, WA.

In 2001, Jones organized a web community dubbed “Furniture for the People” that embraces social activism, bootleg exchange and liberal politics.

November 14 - Condoleezza Rice, Political Scientist, Diplomat, Former Secretary of State

Condoleezza Rice says racial segregation during her early years taught her to be “twice as good” as non-minorities. Her parents enrolled her in classes for French, ice skating, ballet and music when she was three years old. Whatever white people did, their daughter was going to do, and better. Rice says,”My parents were very strategic, I was going to be so well prepared, and I was going to do all of these things that were revered in white society so well, that I would be armored somehow from racism. I would be able to confront white society on its own terms.”

Indeed, Rice has had a remarkable career, becoming the first black female Secretary of State after serving as the first woman in the position of National Security Advisor. She has served on the boards of multiple Fortune 500 companies, and even partnered on piano with talents as diverse as Yo-Yo Ma and Aretha Franklin. Rice rose to tenured professor at Stanford, has had an oil tanker named after her, and gained the ear of President Bush.

November 29 - Joel Coen, Filmmaker

Joel Coen is half of the talented Coen Brothers filmmakers duo that includes younger brother Ethan. There genre-busting work include Barton Fink, Fargo, The Big Lebowski, O Brother, Where Art Thou, No Country for Old Men, True Grit and The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. Although they write, direct and produce films jointly, they take divvy up the marquee with Joel receiving credit as director and Ethan as producer. They’ve also written several films which they didn’t direct. The list includes Unbroken, Bridge of Spies, and many movies that didn’t achieve box office success.

Their films address a wide variety of subject matter. The Man Who Wasn’t There, a 2001 film noir, follows a chain-smoking barber who finds a way to blackmail his wife’s lover so he can invest in a dry cleaning business. Skip a year earlier to O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and you’ll find a movie based loosely on Homer’s Odyssey that employs offbeat humor and a bluegrass soundtrack that won audiences over.

Click below for the other articles in the November 2019 Senior Spirit