October 28, 1897: Edith Head is born.
Over her fifty-four-year career, Edith Head earned eight Academy Awards (from a total of thirty-five nominations), the most of any woman in film history. Born Edith Claire Posener in San Bernardino, Head began her prolific career as a costume designer at Paramount Studios toward the end of the silent film era and at the start of the “golden age” of Hollywood - an age which she shaped through her designs - in 1923. In 1938, she became the first woman to head a design department at a major film studio when she became the chief designer at Paramount, a position which she held until her move to Universal Pictures in 1967. The eight films which she received Academy Awards for Best Costume Design were: The Heiress (1950), Samson and Delilah (1951), All About Eve (1951), A Place in the Sun (1952), Roman Holiday (1954), Sabrina (1955), The Facts of Life (1961), and The Sting (1974). She passed away in 1981 - four years after receiving her last Academy Award nomination.
Today’s Google Doodle:
September 24, 1896: F. Scott Fitzgerald is born.
That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.
September 23, 1215: Kublai Khan is born.
Born Kublai, this grandson of Genghis Khan served as the fifth Khagan of the Mongol Empire, succeeding his brother Möngke, and defeating another brother, Ariq Böke, for the title in a war of succession. The Mongol Empire at the time of Kublai’s accession was large - but also largely disunified, due in part to the nature of the Mongol leaders’ style of ruling, which emphasized conquest over maintenance. One adviser reportedly told him, with this very problem in mind:
I have heard that one can conquer the empire on horseback, but one cannot govern it on horseback.
As Khagan, Kublai’s most famous exploit was the completion of the Mongol conquest of China, which had begun with the conquest of the Jin and Xia dynasties under Ögedei Khan, and ended with the conquest of the Song and proclamation of the Yuan Dynasty in 1271. Even before that time, Kublai adopted many Chinese customs and naming systems and developed an appreciation for Chinese culture and philosophy, though most of his high officials were typically not actually Chinese. Afterward, he attempted to consolidate power and establish a centralized government in China, a mode of rule unlike that of his nomadic predecessors and an exceptionally difficult task given the fact that he was a foreigner and that China had been fragmented for several centuries. In 1274 and 1281, the Khagan also attempted to conquer Japan, but his naval invasions were repelled by fierce ocean storms.
September 7, 1533: Elizabeth I is born.
The future Queen Elizabeth I, the last monarch of the Tudor Dynasty, was the daughter of King Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn, who was executed in 1536. By the Second Succession Act, passed by Parliament that same year, she and her half-sister Mary were removed from the line of succession, although both were returned to the line by the Third Succession Act; though she was an illegitimate child for most of her early childhood, Elizabeth enjoyed a first-class education and was a favorite (as were all of Henry’s children) of Catherine Parr, the king’s sixth and final wife.
She became queen at age 25, following the death of Mary I in late 1558. Although not free from problems, which she dealt with mostly with pragmatism and moderation, her forty-four year reign is often described as a “Golden Age”: the arts and particularly theatre flourished (at the head of this flowering stood the era’s foremost playwrights, Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare); the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 granted the English a great sense of national pride; there was comparatively little internal religious strife; and the first seeds of the British American colonies were planted during her reign. She never married, and therefore never produced heirs, and so, following her death in 1603, the throne passed to the Scottish Stuarts.
August 22, 1902: Leni Riefenstahl is born.
The infamous director once said of her most famous film, Triumph of the Will (1935): “it casts such a shadow over my life that death will be a blessed release.” The film was a chronicle of the 1934 Nuremberg Rally, and it earned her international acclaim; Riefenstahl’s technical innovation and evocative imagery secured her status early on as one of the most important female filmmakers (or filmmakers, period) of all time. Her other famous documentary, Olympia (1938), drew similar praise. Her talent as a director (and dancer, actress, and photographer) was and is rarely disputed, but her role as “Hitler’s propagandist” coupled with that very same talent transformed Riefenstahl into a controversial figure whose films raise similar questions as D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation: both directors utilized groundbreaking techniques and created highly influential works, but the nature and content of those works are distasteful, polarizing, and twisted. Though she claimed (after the war) that Triumph was a purely historical film, it is most often reviewed and criticized as a piece of propaganda - a powerful piece, and an important documentary - but propaganda nonetheless. Roger Ebert succinctly stated that the film is generally regarded as “great but evil”, a description which many might apply to the film’s creator.
So Riefenstahl, who lived to age 101, never fully shed her connection to National Socialism and to the frightening ways her chosen art form could mesmerize and enrapture viewers. Because most of her postwar filmmaking efforts failed due to her association with the Nazis, she took up photography and scuba diving, and excelled at both well into her 90s.
Alfred Hitchcock (August 13, 1899 - April 29, 1980)
The only way to get rid of my fears is to make films about them.