“Hidden Figures” of American History – Paving the Way Forward

 

Katherine Coleman Goble Johnson

(August 26, 1918 – February 24, 2020)

 

Imagine, a little “colored girl” (the term at the time) born in White Sulphur Springs, Greenbrier County, West Virginia, in 1918, excelling as a mathematician at NASA and charting John Glenn’s Friendship 7 mission in 1962, making him the first American to orbit the Earth; rocketing the United States to the top spot in the race for space.

During the segregation era of the 1950s and ’60s, that’s just what Katherine Johnson did. Breaking barriers not only as an African-American woman but as a respected mathematician at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

 

Young Katherine  

From an early age, Katherine’s brilliance with numbers was recognized by her parents, Joshua and Joylette Coleman. But, because Greenbrier County did not offer public schooling for African-American students past the eighth grade, the Colemans arranged for 10-year-old Katherine to attend high school at nearby town Institute, West Virginia.

Katherine graduated from high school at 14 and entered West Virginia State College (now West Virginia State University), a historically black college. Taking every math course offered, Katherine graduated summa cum laude at 18 in 1937, with degrees in Mathematics and French.

 

Reading her story I reflected on the importance of the United States Supreme Court ruling Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada (1938). The court held that states that provided public higher education to white students also had to provide it to black students, to be satisfied either by establishing black colleges and universities or by admitting black students to previously white-only universities.

 

 

This ruling demonstrates why we must stay vigilant and keep the doors open for everyone, lest we go back in time. Think about it, without Katherine’s expertise at NASA, who knows how the space program would have evolved.

John Glenn, not trusting his life to the new electronic calculating machines, requested Katherine to plot the trajectory for his Friendship 7 mission the old fashioned way, by hand on her desktop mechanical calculating machine.

 

Katherine Johnson calculating at her desk

 

Katherine remembers:

“If she says they’re good, then I’m ready to go.” John Glenn

 

John Glenn (July 18, 1921 – December 8, 2016)

 

Glenn’s flight was a success and marked a turning point in the competition between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Katherine’s skill and accuracy in computerized celestial navigation spanned decades at NASA and were critical to the success of their missions. She calculated the trajectories, launch windows, and emergency back-up return paths for many flights from Project Mercury, including the early NASA missions of John Glenn and Alan Shepard, the 1969 Apollo 11 flight to the Moon, through the Space Shuttle program. Johnson also performed calculations for a planned mission to Mars.

One of the highlights of Katherine’s life was In 2015 when President Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

 

 

Katherine Johnson Presidential Medal of Freedom

 

Hidden Figures, the 2016 Oscar-nominated biographical drama is an inspiring history lesson about Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, 3 brilliant African-American women whose careers represent one of the most remarkable, untold stories in American history.

 

Jannelle Monae, Taraji B. Henson, Octavia Spencer

I’m a black woman in my 60’s and before this film had never heard of these amazing women and their contributions to our country.

 

 

I wept with pride during the final credits at the realization of what they were able to accomplish in a time where their very presence was suspect and their gifts underestimated.

 

(L-R) Janelle Monae, Katherine Johnson, Taraji B. Henson, Octavia Spencer

 

I loved the racial mix of the crowd in the theatre and how the white couple next to me drew closer together as Kevin Costner’s character tore down the colored bathroom sign, symbolically standing up for the equality of Katherine and her role on his team.

 

 

Katherine Coleman Goble Johnson, an unsung hero of the space agency’s early days, made her transition on February 24, 2020. An inspiring trailblazer, she is integral to our shared American history and I encourage everyone to learn more about the incredible women who prove that we are capable of achieving great feats even when the odds say it’s impossible.

 

Believe in infinite possibilities!

In Memoriam – David Bowie


R.I.P. David Bowie

I was looking through my memories on Facebook and came across this memorial I tearfully wrote about the passing of David Bowie. I can’t believe it’s been 4 years since the greatest “Starman” left this earthly plane.

So, with light and love, let’s take a look back and celebrate the life of David Robert Jones aka David Bowie.

♥♥♥

The loss of David Bowie truly touched my heart. I’ve followed and loved his music since 1972 with the release of the album  – “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars”.

“Starman” from the 1972 album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.

“If you’re sad today, just remember the world is over 4 billion years old and you somehow managed to exist at the same time as David Bowie”. – Dean Podesta

I’m appreciative of this tweet because I found it calming and it put Bowie’s passing in perspective. A true innovator. He will be missed.

♥♥♥

R.I.P

image

 

To Remake or Not To Remake. That is the Question.

I’m on the record saying I hate remakes. If it was genius in the first place, why mess with it? If it stunk, why bring it back? Are you so ego driven Mr. Director that you feel your “version” outshines, oh say, Alfred Hitchcock‘s Psycho? Or Mr. Director, do you so lack creatively that you cop-out and warm over some – why was it made in the first place (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) flick?

That being said, there are those exceptions. Websters’ definition of a remake is: to make again or anew as in a new form or manner. If a film can pay homage and capture the essence of the original but also bring freshness, I consider that film to be a great remake!

 

This classic has a great remake:

 

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

 

Directed by Don Siegel and Produced by Walter Wanger, the film starred Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynter. This 1956 sci-fi thriller taps into a hideous nightmare, what if we went to sleep and awoke as a “pod person?” (Our physical self but void of emotion.) This movie in and of itself is an update of the 1950’s fear of space, atomic energy, and aliens. However, instead of giant mutated spiders, this tale is of an invasion from within.

 

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

Invasion_of_the_body_snatchers_movie_poster_1978

“From deep space the seed is planted.”

Directed by Philip Kaufman and starring Donald Sutherland and Brooke Adams, this remake ups the ante. It honors the original sense of foreboding but the degree of terror is raised to a pandemic level.

There’s a scene in the original involving a dog that alerts the “pod people” that “Becky” (Dana Wynter) isn’t one of them. In this version they remake the dog scene but takes it to a much freakier place.   Outstanding!

I won’t give away the ending but, holy crap, that was frigging frightening!  Totally fresh update!

 

A box office success, Invasion of the Body Snatchers was well received by critics and is considered by some (myself included) to be among the greatest film remakes.

To Remake or not to Remake. That is the Question.

In this instance – YES!

Josephine Baker – Beyond “Bronze Venus”

josephine baker tiger

Josephine Baker 1920’s

Josephine Baker is most celebrated as the “Bronze Venus” and her infamous “Banana Dance” in Paris c. 1927. However, the sum of her life is so much more! I was blown away by her boldness and sexual freedom, but it wasn’t until I saw the 1991 HBO movie starring Lynn Whitfield as Josephine Baker that I started doing research on her life. Whitfield won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Special—becoming the first Black actress to win the award in this category which seems apropos since Josephine Baker was The Lady of firsts.

 

Lynn Whitfield - Josephine Baker Story 1991

I’ve always been intrigued by Baker’s provocative reputation but had no idea of her involvement in the fight for justice, racial equality, and the civil-rights movement.

Born  Freda Josephine McDonald in St. Louis, Missouri, (June 3, 1906 – April 12, 1975) she was an American-born French dancer, singer, and actress who came to be known in various circles as the “Black Pearl,” “Bronze Venus” and even the “Creole Goddess”. Her parents were Carrie McDonald and Vaudeville drummer Eddie Carson. Growing up poor she started working early cleaning homes and babysitting for wealthy white families.

josephine baker baby

Baker dropped out of school at the age of 13 and lived as a street child in the slums of St. Louis. Her street-corner dancing attracted attention from the Dixie Steppers which lead to her opportunity to appear in the groundbreaking and hugely successful Broadway revue Shuffle Along (1921). She performed as the last dancer in the chorus line, a position where, traditionally, the dancer performed in a comic manner, as if she were unable to remember the dance, until the encore, at which point she would perform it not only correctly but with additional complexity. Baker’s act set in motion the career which would make her an international star.

 

Josephine Baker_Charleston

Josephine Baker dancing the Charleston, 1926

 

Josephine traveled to Paris, France, for a new venture, and opened in “La Revue Nègre” on October 2, 1925, at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées. Her erotic dancing and performing in next to nothing made her a sensation in Paris. The bohemian culture of interwar Paris embraced Baker’s skin color, allowing her to catapult to stardom. At the Folies Bergère, she performed the Danse Sauvage, wearing a costume consisting of a skirt made of a string of artificial bananas – voila! – a star is born.

 

 

Josephine Baker became the most successful and highest paid American entertainer working in France and the first Black woman to star in a major motion picture. Baker starred in three films which found success only in Europe: the silent film Siren of the Tropics (1927), Zouzou (1934) and Princesse Tam Tam (1935). She also starred in Fausse Alerte in 1940.

However, despite her acclaim in Europe, upon returning to New York in 1936  to star in the Ziegfeld Follies, she walked right back into good ole American racism. Audiences rejected the idea that a black woman could be so sophisticated and she was replaced by stripper Gypsy Rose Lee later in the run. Time magazine referred to her as a “Negro wench”. She returned to Europe heartbroken.

 

Josephine Baker and the French Resistance of World War II

Josephine returned to Paris in 1937, married a Jewish Frenchman, Jean Lion, and became a French citizen. In September 1939, when France declared war on Germany she was recruited by Deuxième Bureau, French military intelligence, as an “honorable correspondent”. Baker collected what information she could about German troop locations from officials she met at parties. She was awarded the Legion of Honor and given a Medal of Resistance for her work during World War II. She was also the first American woman to receive the Croix du Guerre, a notable French military honor.

josephine baker french 2

Josephine Baker Legion of Honor

 

 Josephine Baker and the Civil Rights Movement

Though based in France, Baker fought for American civil rights in the 1950s and 1960s. When she arrived in New York with her fourth husband French composer and conductor Jo Bouillon, they were refused reservations at 36 hotels because she was black. In 1951 when the famous New York Stork Club refused to serve Baker because she was black, she wrote letters to President Truman and enlisted the aid of the NAACP which focused a spotlight on the issues of inequality and racism in popular establishments.

josephine bakerstork-club-furor

(Stork Club Controversy)

Josephine Baker was one of the few female speakers at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963, introducing “Negro Women Fighters for Freedom”, including Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Congressman John Lewis. The NAACP, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, named May 20th Josephine Baker Day in her honor.

 

josephine_baker march on washington

Josephine Baker in French uniform March on Washington 1963

 

“The Rainbow Tribe”

Long before Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt’s multicultural family, there was Josephine Baker and her “Rainbow Tribe”. Josephine wanted to prove that “children of different ethnicities and religions could still be brothers.” Baker raised two daughters, French-born Marianne and Moroccan-born Stellina, and ten sons; Korean-born Jeannot (or Janot), Japanese-born Akio, Colombian-born Luis, Finnish-born Jari (now Jarry), French-born Jean-Claude and Noël, Israeli-born Moïse, Algerian-born Brahim, Ivorian-born Koffi, and Venezuelan-born Mara.

 

josephine-baker-children

Josephine Baker and “The Rainbow Tribe”

 

On April 12, 1975, we lost Josephine after she suffered a cerebral hemorrhage, she was 68 years old. She performed right up to her death, starring in a retrospective revue at the Bobino in Paris, Joséphine à Bobino 1975, celebrating her 50 years in show business. The opening night audience included Sophia Loren, Mick Jagger, Shirley Bassey, (best known for recording the theme song to the James Bond film Goldfinger (1964), Diana Ross, and Liza Minnelli.

20,000 people lined the streets of Paris to watch her funeral procession. She received a 21 gun salute, making her the first Black American female to be buried with military honors in France. Josephine Baker leaves behind a legacy of accomplishments including breaking color barriers and fighting for justice and equality around the world. I thank her for channeling her celebrity into championing the rights of all.

 

A celebration of Josephine’s Life and Legacy

“You Can’t Take it With You” 1938

Related image

 

I enjoy classic television just like classic films so I’m hooked on a tv station called METV. Perry Mason with Raymond Burr is one of my favorites so I usually catch an episode daily. I love the convoluted storylines and the less than plausible show ending of the murderer jumping up in court and hysterically coping to the charge; a full confession no less.

I say all this because an episode the other day featured the scenario of the rich father trying to eliminate his son’s less than a suitable new bride; “There’s $50,000 in the safe for you to fly to Paris and get a divorce.” That’s quite the offer.

Anyhoo, that got me thinking about the brilliant, “You Can’t Take it With You” the 1938 American romantic comedy film directed by Frank Capra, and starring Jean ArthurLionel BarrymoreJames Stewart and Edward Arnold.

 

Image result for you can't take it with you

Cast with Director Frank Capra

 

Adapted from the Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hartthe film is about a man (Jimmy Stewart) from a family of rich snobs who becomes engaged to a woman (Jean Arthur) who speaks her mind and is from a good-natured but decidedly eccentric family.

The film received two Academy Awards from seven nominations: Best Picture and Best Director for Frank Capra. An iconic director, this was Capra’s third Oscar for Best Director in just five years, following It Happened One Night (1934) and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936). It was also the highest-grossing picture of the year.

I love Jean Arthur’s character (Alice) because she is a strong woman who knows who she is and isn’t afraid to tell Jimmy Stewart (Tony) that his family can go to the blazes because they aren’t better than hers; as a matter of fact, her family understands what Jimmy’s doesn’t, that money isn’t everything and you can’t take it with you. Friends and family are what gives your life worth.

 

Jimmy Stewart and Jean Arthur

 

Alice, sensing that her engagement to Tony will not be well received by his parents informs Tony that if their engagement is to go forward, he must invite his parents to the house to meet her family. I’m not sure what Tony was trying to prove but, he gives his parents the wrong date so the house is in disarray with the usual family “madness” in full view. (I said they were eccentric.)

 

Just another Tuesday night at the Sycamore house.

For me, the lesson of the movie is to live life to the fullest and cherish your family and friends. Don’t worry about being judged by others, they’re probably just jealous of how happy you are and how miserable they feel.

 

In the words of “Auntie Mame” from the 1958 movie.

The City in the Sky 🎆 Metropolis (1927)

 

Metropolis

 

As a film student at The University of Michigan, I was exposed to the masters of cinema – Chaplin, Murnau, Kubrick, Lang, etc. There, we were challenged to critique and look beyond the surface to the underlying themes. “Metropolis” is supreme in incorporating intriguing layers of sub-texture and sub-plots.

Image result for metropolis movie moloch

Moloch Machine

Austrian director Fritz Lang’s German Expressionistic masterpiece helped to develop the science-fiction genre, with innovative imagery from cinematographer Karl Freund, art design by Otto Hunte, Erich Kettelhut, and Karl Vollbrecht and set design by Edgar Ulmer.(set designer for The Phantom of the Opera) It was the last of Lang’s silent films. (Filmsite Movie Review)

 

fritz lang

Friedrich Christian AntonFritzLang (December 5, 1890 – August 2, 1976)

“Metropolis” was not just some sci-fi flick from the silent era, it’s a visually-compelling allegory set in the dystopic, 21st-century city of Metropolis and represents a brilliant critique of the repercussions of man vs. machine and the brutality of the never-ending class struggle.

Establishing the tone of the film, this statement is presented following the opening credits.

THE MEDIATOR BETWEEN HEAD AND HANDS MUST BE THE HEART!

 

“Metropolis” took over 2 years to complete at ten times the budget for the usual Hollywood production of the time and influenced visuals associated with classic films such as; Chaplin’s war against the machines in Modern Times (1936), the mechanical hand of Dr. Strangelove in Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, (1964), or the resemblance between the Maria robot and the droid C-3PO in George Lucas’ Star Wars (1977) trilogy of films, and scenes of Los Angeles in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982) to name just a few.

This symbolic tale was written by Lang’s wife Thea Von Harbou (from her own novel). Her vision detailed a self-indulgent, futuristic, industrial world built of skyscrapers and bridges incorporating the Art Deco style of the 20s for the 2026 city of Metropolis.

An ultra elite, 1% privileged class of powerful industrialists is juxtaposed with a subterranean environment of the nameless, oppressed and exploited drone-like slave labor class.

Related image

City of Metropolis

Made in Germany during the Weimar Period, Metropolis is set in a futuristic urban dystopia and follows the attempts of Freder (Gustav Fröhlich), the wealthy son of the city’s ruler, and Maria (Brigitte Helm), a poor worker, to overcome the vast gulf separating the classes of their city.

Filming took place in 1925 at a cost of approximately five million Reichsmarks. The art direction draws influence from Bauhaus, Cubist, and Futurist design. (Wikipedia)

Image result for Fritz Lang directing the workers

Fritz Lang directing the workers

As with all great films, “Metropolis” was influenced by the historical events occurring during its time. Centered around the developing Industrial Revolution and depressed economic times, the film also incorporates the rise of fascism in a pre-Hitler Weimar Republic Germany following World War I.

Another influence of the movie’s themes was the rise of the American labor movement and unions during the 1920s due to oppressive working conditions. “Metropolis”, like the Progressive, investigative journalists of the day, took on corrupt politicians and the establishment in an effort to make people aware of the contrast of poverty with the upper-crust classes of the opulent Roaring 20s.

Image result for american labor movement

I’m a steadfast believer that understanding history is empowering. “Metropolis” tackles the rise of immigration into the US and exploitation of workers at the beginning of the 20th century along with Capitalists exploiting labor. It deals with the conversation of doing what’s right versus greed and the power of modern science.

The creation of the evil android Maria (Bridgitte Helm) was an abuse of science but that same knowledge powered the city in the sky and could have been used to enrich the lives of the subterranean slaves.

Related image

Describing these themes and comparisons in “Metropolis” is like writing a piece for The Nation magazine today. The similarities are frightening like George Orwell’s “1984” or H.G. Well’s “The Time Machine”. It’s dismaying to revisit a film I critiqued back in the ’70s, that was made in the ’20s continues to unfold in the year 2019; only 7 years away from the time of the 2026 Art Deco Metropolis city in the sky.

 

Image result for the nation magazine

Does art imitate life or life imitate art? I’m not sure, but in our “reality” tv driven news programming, a low information population, and the “I don’t believe in science” facts, kinda feels like we’re living in the dystopian world of “Metropolis”.

Lest we forget.

THE MEDIATOR BETWEEN HEAD AND HANDS MUST BE THE HEART!

This is a restored version of “Metropolis”

If you’ve never seen it, I highly recommend this viewing experience. But, lasting 2 1/2 hours, prepare to settle in with an extra large bag of popcorn.

 

Forrest Gump Gratitude 🏃

Forrest_Gump_poster

“Forrest Gump” (1994)

“Run Forrest, Run!”

Every time I think of the movie “Forrest Gump”, that’s the first quote I hear. Then, “Life’s like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.”

 

forrestgumpchocolate

 

Quotes galore plus Lieutenant Dan (Gary Sinise) and Bubba (Mykelti Williamson). Love this movie!

Forrest Gump’s (Tom Hanks) life is a testimony to gratitude. He understands his challenges but is not hesitant to live his life to the fullest, including telling his childhood love, Jenny (Robin Wright) how he feels about her.

He gets it. Life gives you what you get, so don’t whine, go for it and make the most of your journey. Thank God for his mother, (Sally Field), she didn’t listen to what the”experts” had to say. She did whatever she had to do to provide Forrest with the foundation that he could do anything. With his braces, he had “magic” legs. Turn every so-called obstacle into an advantage. Once again, attitude is everything!

 

 

Forrest is a true inspiration and proof that with support and love we can overcome adversity. Love and compassion make the difference.

Mama, Jenny, Bubba, and Lieutenant Dan. Forrest loved and was deeply loved by those whose lives he touched.

forrestgumpallihavetosay