October 24, 2018

Circe: Author Madeline Miller tackles Greek mythology

Like many high school and college students, do you remember being required to read Edith Hamilton’s classic book Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes? The Greek stories interested me the most, but it also contained Roman and Norse mythology seen through the work of poets, playwrights and historians.

If you feel like revisiting Greek mythology in an engagingly written fiction format, look no further than Circe by Madeline Miller. I must admit that I did not initially appreciate the florid prose but then I got sucked into the timeless tale of Circe and her world of Titans, Olympians and humans brave enough to fraternize with gods.

I felt like I was reminiscing about long-lost relatives and old school chums as I encountered names such as Daedalus, Odysseus, Hermes, Athena, Medea, the Minotaur and Zeus. Daughter to the sun god, Helios, Circe is the underdog child who is banished to a deserted island where she polishes her witchcraft and entertains the occasional visitor. Just let me tell you that she does not reward “piggish” human behavior.

Miller has a previous book entitled Achilles which goes on my “to read” list. I could stand to be refreshed on the Trojan War, with Helen, Achilles, Hector, Paris and that horse.

Circe by Madeline Miller is Greek to you and me, but in a good way.

John Singer Sargent & Chicago’s Gilded Age at the Art Institute of Chicago

Charles Deering, Sargent’s ardent art patron

With a hundred pieces of art, John Singer Sargent & Chicago’s Gilded Age, the exhibit currently showing at the Art Institute of Chicago features not only Sargent work but that of his art colleagues and contemporaries. Mixed in with the Sargent pieces, the viewer gets to see work by Claude Monet, Giovanni Boldini, William Merritt Chase, Augustus Saint-Gaudens and Anders Zorn, a Swedish artist who I plan to investigate further.

Although John Singer Sargent was an American, he was born and raised in Europe which makes his influence on Chicago’s Gilded Age all the more remarkable. From 1888 until his death in 1925, Sargent’s work was featured in 20 Chicago exhibitions including the 1893 Colombian Exposition.

Street in Venice – 1st Sargent work to be shown in Chicago 1888

Sargent greatly benefited from the patronage of many wealthy art aficionados including local businessman, Charles Deering (CEO of what would become International Harvester). This exhibit includes AIC possessions, work from private collections and other museums. Alas, his most notorious painting, Madame X, owned by the Met in NYC is not part of this art assemblage.

Sargent worked in water color and charcoal on everything from nudes to landscapes, but his oil paint portraiture was his absolute forté. This exhibit beautifully supports that opinion.

I will include the AIC link for admission info, but you may consider going on a Thursday evening when the museum is open until 8 pm. When leaving, I saw charming tables with umbrellas in the AIC’s central courtyard. One hour in the exhibit and then perhaps a cool beverage in the “plein air?”

http://sargent.artic.edu/

Janet, Jackie and Lee by J. Randy Taraborrelli

The sub-title of Janet, Jackie and Lee is “The Secret Lives of Janet Auchincloss and Her Daughters Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Lee Radziwill.” Author Taraborrelli who has written a handful of other books on the Kennedys scopes in on the Bouvier sisters and their indomitable mother, Janet Lee Bouvier Auchincloss Morris.

There are some titillating revelations like sister Lee having an affair with Aristotle Onassis well before her sister, Jacqueline Kennedy married the Greek shipping tycoon. Lee frequently was seeing other men while married to Prince Radziwill. Despite the tell-all quality to the book, Taraborrelli’s writing and research are impressive. He seems to have spoken with a myriad of family members, staff, friends and colleagues to paint an accurate picture of the relationships between mother Janet and her two famous daughters.

Lee Radziwill is still very much alive in her 80s and did not want friends to talk to Taraborrelli. Nevertheless, the book contains much information on her surprising friendships (Truman Capote, Andy Warhol and Rudolf Nereyev among others) her romances and her varied career choices.

The book is long but the chapters are short so the pages fly by. Two sections of photos add to the enjoyment. We continue to be fascinated with the Kennedy family and their friends, lovers and in-laws.
Janet, Jackie and Lee definitely feeds that hunger.

Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story on Netflix

My mother was movie-mad and one of her favorite actresses was the beautiful Hedy Lamarr. Hedy had an accent but I knew virtually nothing about her background.

A documentary on Netflix, Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story will surprise and enlighten you about this Hollywood star’s vertiginous journey.

Like German-born Marlene Dietrich, Hedy, an Austrian Jew left her Nazi-leaning country for California to pursue a movie career. She became an ardent supporter of the U. S. cause selling millions of dollars worth of war bonds.

Her scientific interest and natural talent at devising inventions was the real shocker. This gorgeous dame was also smart. She shared a patent for frequency hopping with composer George Antheil, a concept that is used in both civilian and military applications in current day. Unfortunately, she earned not one penny from this brilliant invention.

Her beauty was also her curse. Six failed marriages were perhaps a result of men falling in love with the Hollywood image but not the actual woman. As she aged, she became one of the first devotees of plastic surgery in an attempt to hang on to her storied face.
Her last years were spent in seclusion, much like Garbo and Dietrich. Were these beauties unwilling to let the public see them as older versions of their movie images?

If Hedy Lamarr had been born with average looks, would a scientific career have resulted in a more stable life and even more successful inventions?
The documentary allows the viewer to ponder the remarkable life of Hedy Lamarr and draw their own conclusions.

A trusted friend recommended the documentary and pointed out these words quoted by Lamar towards the end of the movie. An internet search indicates that the quote was erroneously attributed to Mother Teresa. The full quote was actually written by college student Kent M. Keith in 1968. Here are all ten of the inspiring ideas:

1: People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway.
2: If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Do good anyway.
3: If you are successful, you win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway.
4: The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
5: Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway.
6: The biggest men with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men with the smallest minds. Think big anyway.
7: People favor underdogs, but follow only top dogs. Fight for a few underdogs anyway.
8: What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway.
9: People really need help but may attack you if you do help them. Help people anyway.
10: Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you have anyway.

Louis Sullivan, architectural visionary

In the musical I co-wrote with June Finfer, “Burham’s Dream,” Louis Sullivan is Daniel Burnham’s biggest stylistic adversary. In a cruel turn of architectural fate, Sullivan’s building style was eclipsed by the renewed interest in Neo-classical designs after the 1893 fair.

Chicago architecture buffs are aware of the many lauded buildings of Louis Sullivan (The Auditorium Theater, Roosevelt University, Carson Pirie Scott facade on State Street, the Charnley House on Astor Street), but they may not know about the tragic turn his life took in his last two decades.

Sullivan’s Bayard Building in NYC’s Greenwich Village

The teens and twenties in the 20th century brought the once-revered man into penury, alcoholism and rented rooms. Two of his former students came to his aid in life and death. The Krause Music Store on Lincoln Avenue was not a commission for Sullivan, but for his former apprentice, William Presto who hired his old mentor to design the facade. The little jewel-box of a building currently houses Studio V Design. (4611 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL 60625)

Sullivan Transportation Building’s Golden Arch

Although Sullivan designed memorial structures for the wealthy in Graceland (most notably the Getty tomb), he himself died penniless with a pauper’s grave to be his lot. Protege Frank Lloyd Wright (and possibly some other architects) paid for the lovely monument that marks Sullivan’s final resting place in Graceland.

Not only can we appreciate Sullivan’s distinctively American architectural style, we can also thank him for the famous phrase, “Form follows function.”

Sullivan’s Facade on Lincoln Avenue in Chicago

I will be updating an article I wrote on Graceland this month, with some emphasis on the characters from Burnham’s Dream. This is the perfect time of year to visit this most restful of Chicago venues.

Ida B. Wells in current-day news

Burnham’s Dream has several historical characters including Ida B. Wells who is in current-day news.

The great-grand-daughter of Ida B. Wells, Michelle Duster, is trying to have a Chicago memorial erected in honor of her famous writer/social activist forebear.

Ida Wells created the first black kindergarten in Chicago and worked to get Chicago’s first black alderman elected. She was a tireless journalist, a friend and contemporary of Frederick B. Douglass and travelled to England to lecture about inequality and the lynching of black Americans.

She helped start the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the National Association of Colored Women. She was also a strong advocate of women getting the vote.

The New York Times very belatedly printed an obituary for Ida B. Wells on International Women’s Day this year, 87 years after her death.

The Chicago City Council faces a proposal to change Balbo Drive to Ida B. Wells Drive. If this happened, it would be the first Loop street named after a woman and a person of color. The now-razed housing project that bore her name was not a fitting monument to this brave and vociferous woman.