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Moon face looking out of a telescope

Arts Days: September 01, 1902: Sci-Fi’s First Flight
This French silent film, which features a now-iconic image of a smiley-face moon with a spaceship poking it in the eye, is widely considered to be the first science-fiction movie. Lasting only 14 minutes, the movie tells a story of astronomers who travel to the moon and fight with bug-like aliens.

Along the way, they get a close-up view of the Big Dipper constellation (with human faces peering out of each star) and a moon goddess sitting on a crescent moon-shaped swing. Le Voyage dans la Lune, its title in French, was directed by Georges Méliès. A true film pioneer, he experimented with special effects, double exposures, fades, and dissolves. His work was incredibly innovative for the times.
Innovators & Pioneers, Movies & Movie Stars, Europe, Science Fiction & Fantasy

Marilyn Monroe

Arts Days: September 15, 1954: The Blonde Bombshell
Standing over a subway grate with a train rushing by below, Marilyn Monroe titillated moviegoers when her skirt blew up in the wind.

The director of The Seven-Year Itch, Billy Wilder, had ordered this scene to be filmed repeatedly. The shooting was taking place at Lexington Avenue and 52nd Street in New York City, and as he ordered more takes, more people gathered around to ogle Monroe. She was one of a long line of movie blondes dating back to Jean Harlow, who appeared in the 1933 film, Bombshell. Movie fans have idolized these golden-haired beauties of film and television. Monroe may well be the most famous of them all.
Controversial, Fashion, Movies & Movie Stars, Popular Culture

Gene Kelly

Arts Days: August 23, 1912: Dancing Up a Storm
Dancer, actor, choreographer, boyishly handsome good guy—that was Gene Kelly, the fellow who bought a one-way ticket to New York City when he was a young man and soon landed a Broadway lead.

Kelly pushed for Hollywood to make more musicals and wound up dominating the musical revival in the 1940s and 50s. In timeless movies like Singin’ in the Rain and An American in Paris, Kelly’s elegant dancing stole the show.

He made it look so easy, yet his dancing demanded great strength, technical skill, and expression. In his choreography and in his performances, he melded everything from classical ballet to jazz to athletic prowess to tap dancing. And by the way, he could sing, too.
America, Choreographers, Dance, Dance Legends, Musicals, Movies & Movie Stars

Bruce Lee Statue in Hong Kong

Arts Days: August 17, 1973: Kung Fu Mania Kicks Off
The violent yet elegant Chinese martial art broadly known as kung fu reached a huge new audience with the release of this film. Bruce Lee, its star and an acclaimed master of several martial arts, shot to international prominence.

Lee’s movie character uses his physical strength and philosophical gifts to dispatch a bad guy named Han, who dwells on a private island. Spectacular fight sequences show Lee dispatching Han and his henchmen with everything from roundhouse kicks to scary claw-like weapons. The action was a bit too rough at times, in fact; several actors were hospitalized during filming.

Though Lee died shortly before the premiere, Enter the Dragon kick-started the kung fu film genre popular to this day.
China, Innovators & Pioneers, Physical Activity, Popular Culture, Movies & Movie Stars

Clark Gable in Gone with the Wind

Arts Days: August 24, 1938: Gable Becomes a Goner
It’s said that actor Clark Gable didn’t even want to play Rhett Butler—the very role with which he will forever be synonymous. This Hollywood heartthrob of the 1930s was the person the film’s producer David O. Selznick wanted to play Butler from the start, but it took Gary Cooper turning down the role for Gable to become a serious contender.

Gable had starred in successful films like Mutiny on the Bounty and It Happened One Night, but Gone With… forever cemented him in the public’s mind as a leading man without peer: dashing, handsome, sophisticated.

The epic Civil War drama, based on the book of the same name by Margaret Mitchell, is routinely cited as one of the greatest movies of all time.
Movies & Movie Stars, Literature, America, History

Lee de Forest

Arts Days: August 26, 1873: Mister Sound Man
Can you imagine a movie without sound accompanying the action? Lee de Forest is the guy who first gave sound to movies in a synchronized way. Invented in 1920, his Phonofilm process made it possible to link the sound and the images on the screen.

Sure, there had been sound in films before this time, but it might have been, say, a scene of a car driving by and a random horn blowing on the soundtrack. De Forest’s technology made it possible for a car and its beep to be linked together.

Basically, de Forest found a way to use a photocell to “read” light and dark areas on the film, then convert them to an audio track matching the action. For his accomplishment, de Forest received a special Oscar® in 1959.
America, Innovators & Pioneers, Inventions, Movies & Movie Stars

Peter O'Toole in Lawrence of Arabia

Arts Days: August 02, 1932: Peter the Great
No matter how many leading stage and screen roles he’s portrayed, Peter O’Toole is best recognized as the title character in David Lean’s 1963 screen classic, Lawrence of Arabia. In this epic adventure film, O’Toole plays the title character, T.E. Lawrence, a British national torn during World War I between his allegiance to the crown and the bonds he forms with Sherif Ali and other Arabs.

O’Toole’s performance, coupled with stunning cinematography and a soaring soundtrack, riveted audiences and catapulted him to worldwide fame. Whether appearing in a drama, comedy, romance, or even musical, O’Toole impresses critics and fans alike with his larger-than-life insight and intelligence.
Movies & Movie Stars, Theater

The Cocoanuts film announcement

Arts Days: August 03, 1929: A Bunch of Mixed Nuts
The first surviving Marx Brothers film showcases the quartet’s zany acts and brand of comedy. Audiences loved the rapid-fire patter and slapstick antics of these hilarious brothers—Harpo, Zeppo, Chico, and Groucho, who with his greasepaint mustache is probably the best known of the bunch.

Each brother had his own “schtick:” Groucho is famous for his one-liners and wiggling cigar; Harpo for his never speaking, blond wig, and harp playing; Chico for his girl chasing; and Zeppo for his straight man routine.

In this musical comedy, the four run a Florida hotel, where they scheme against and con their guests, filling the screen with comedic chaos. The Cocoanuts and numerous other Marx Brothers’ movies kept audiences laughing through the Great Depression and continue to crack us up even today.
Comedy, Movies & Movie Stars

Alfred Hitchcock

Arts Days: August 13, 1899: Getting Hitched
Film director Alfred Hitchcock often made the viewer’s imagination do the work. Think about Psycho and the famous shower scene and how Anthony Perkins’ character is never actually shown stabbing the shower-taking actress Janet Leigh. Instead, streams of “blood” are shown running down the drain, all while you’re hearing the sounds of shrieking violin strings.

For sheer terror and shock value, without a lot of onscreen gore, few directors can best Hitchcock. From The Birds and North by Northwest to Rear Window and Vertigo, “Hitch” carefully planned out his movies often using music or complete silence to heighten the suspense. How enjoyable, and scary, it is to watch his characters mysteriously revealed, layer by layer, exposed for who they really are.
Innovators & Pioneers, Movies & Movie Stars, Popular Culture

Steve Martin

Arts Days: August 14, 1945: A Wild and Crazy Guy
Perhaps “zany” is the perfect word to describe this funny Renaissance man who juggles like a pro, dances with happy feet, and plays a mean banjo like no ordinary country star. Steve Martin’s goofy comedy stunts—from wearing a fake arrow through his head to twisting together balloon animals during his show—have endeared him to countless fans.

Even with a white-hot standup career propelled to new heights by his work on “Saturday Night Live,” Martin tried acting, with lead roles in hilarious films like The Jerk, Roxanne, and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, among others. In recent years, he’s branched out: writing short stories and plays and appearing regularly with the bluegrass band, Steep Canyon Rangers.
Comedy, America, Musical Instruments, Movies & Movie Stars

Judy Garland in the Wizard of Oz

Arts Days: August 15, 1939: The Great and Powerful Oz
The Wizard of Oz, based on a book by L. Frank Baum, is one of the most spectacular fantasy musicals Hollywood ever generated. Surely the audience gasped in delight when Dorothy opened the door of her twister-flung farmhouse for her first peek at Oz and the black-and-white image erupted into glorious Technicolor.

Between the antics of the Cowardly Lion, Scarecrow, and Tin Man; the green fury of the Wicked Witch of the West; and the bluster of the Wizard himself before he is revealed as a fake, there is much to savor about this gem of Hollywood’s Golden Age. The film went on to be nominated for six Academy Awards.®
Movies & Movie Stars, Musicals, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Popular Culture

Betty Boop

Arts Days: August 09, 1930: The First Boop-Boop-Bee-Doop
Cartoonist Grim Natwick had no idea the little brunette who emerged from under his pen would captivate millions with her squeaky Brooklyn-accented voice and “va va voom” persona.

Betty Boop debuted in the cartoon Dizzy Dishes. She was originally drawn as half French poodle, half human (her famous hoop earrings, for example, were poodle ears in the beginning). But within a couple of years, the poodle parts were ditched, and Betty became the first animated sex symbol.

Modeled on a jazz-era flapper, she sported a large head on a small body, lending her a childlike quality. However, her developed figure and flirty gestures were decidedly those of a grown-up woman.
Cartoons, Comics, & Animation, Popular Culture, Jazz, Movies & Movie Stars

Snow White

Arts Days: December 21, 1937: The Fairest (and First) of Them All
The story of a lovely princess, seven sidekicks, and an evil Queen all played a part in Walt Disney’s initial venture into Technicolor. Based on a fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm, Snow White was also the first animated feature film made in the U.S. The making of the film was considered an absurd gamble, with its groundbreaking ideas that required the invention of brand-new technology.

Focusing on telling the story rather than garnering laughs, animators made sure the film had all the elements of suspense, comedy, romance, and tragedy of a feature film. The risk paid off. The audience at the premiere loved the film, which included original songs like “Someday My Prince Will Come."
Cartoons, Comics, & Animation, Innovators & Pioneers, Movies & Movie Stars, America, Popular Culture, Folklore

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

Arts Days: December 23, 1954: Water, Water Everywhere
This movie, the first science-fiction film produced by Walt Disney Pictures, has it all: an underwater battle with a giant squid, great dialogue, and stars like Kirk Douglas as Ned Land and James Mason as Captain Nemo. The movie was adapted from a book by the French science fiction author Jules Verne.

It featured Nemo’s fantastic submarine, the Nautilus, which could stay under water for five days, and had onboard equipment to convert seawater into drinking water. To bring Verne’s deep-sea world to life, a staff of hundreds—led by director Richard Fleischer—was required. Lucky folks: They got to do much of the filming in beautiful places in the Bahamas and Jamaica.
Movies & Movie Stars, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Stunts & Special Effects, Innovators & Pioneers, Literature, Popular Culture

It's a Wonderful Life

Arts Days: December 20, 1946: The Richest Man in Town
Jimmy Stewart, a 1983 Kennedy Center Honoree, was a very popular actor when he was cast as the likeable George Bailey, the lead role in It’s a Wonderful Life. Director Frank Capra tells the story of a small-town fellow who, through no fault of his own, comes to the end of his rope on Christmas Eve. As he considers suicide, Heaven sends a gentle guardian angel named Clarence to convince him what a good life he really has.

Told mostly through flashbacks, the movie has become essential viewing for many at Christmastime. Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, and the other cast members bring Bedford Falls to life year after year, reminding us all that “no man is a failure who has friends.”
Movies & Movie Stars, Popular Culture, America, Comedy, Family

Steven Spielberg

Arts Days: December 18, 1946: Leader Behind the Lens
Steven Spielberg may well be the best-known film director working today. His movies read like a list of the greatest American films: Jaws, Schindler’s List, and Saving Private Ryan among them. Not only that, but he’s got his finger on the pulse of what makes a movie sell tickets. Lots of tickets: all told, Spielberg movies have grossed more than $8 billion dollars.

Crowd pleasers like E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial and Jurassic Park have also elevated Spielberg in the director’s stratosphere, as well as less mainstream but more demanding works like Munich. In recent years, Spielberg has also often taken on the role of movie producer, creating distribution deals and hiring directors. Actor Harrison Ford sums up this 2006 Kennedy Center Honoree’s vision by stating, "Steven's passion and enthusiasm for ideas and for human understanding is very much what fuels his work."
Movies & Movie Stars, Innovators & Pioneers, Jobs in the Arts

Walt Disney with Mickey Mouse

Arts Days: December 05, 1905: Magic’s Original Imagineer
The young Walter Disney loved to draw, so it should come as little surprise that animation became his life’s calling. He also studied art and photography, all of which would come into play as he built the movie company that bears his name. Over the course of his career, Disney worked as an animator, director, screenwriter, voice actor, and producer; he also helped design Disneyland and Disney World, perhaps the most famous theme parks in the world.

Yet, could it be a certain Mouse named Mickey with those iconic round black ears that might be his most famous creation of all?  Probably so, but let’s not forget all of his other achievements: introducing a separate cartoon for each animated movement, adding sound to cartoons, producing the first feature-length animated films, creating new recording techniques, and inventing the multi-plane camera.
Inventions, Cartoons, Comics, & Animation, Innovators & Pioneers, Movies & Movie Stars, Television, Popular Culture, America

Sammy Davis, Jr.

Arts Days: December 08, 1925: The Ultimate Entertainer
Whether singing, acting, playing instruments, or tap-dancing, Sammy Davis, Jr. always performed with style and elegance. A Kennedy Center Honoree in 1987, Davis was just three years old when he made his vaudeville debut. In young adulthood, he played clubs, landed movie roles (including one in the original Ocean’s Eleven from 1960), starred on the Broadway stage, and even got his own TV program, The Sammy Davis Jr. Show.

Signed to Capitol, Reprise and several other record companies over the decades, Davis’ hit songs include “Mr. Bojangles” and “What Kind of Fool Am I.” His friendships with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and other big stars of the day earned him a place in the Rat Pack, a crew of Hollywood hotshots who partied and performed together.
Movies & Movie Stars, Innovators & Pioneers, Music Legends, Music, Dance, Dance Legends

James Dean

Arts Days: December 13, 1950: Rebel Without a Coke
An undiscovered actor named James Dean wound up playing a fun-loving teenager in an early Pepsi commercial. He’s the fellow who whacks the player piano, prompting it to magically play a dance tune. As luck would have it, the handsome Dean caught the eye of folks casting a show called Hill Number One, landing him the part of John the Baptist.

More Hollywood roles followed, then a couple of parts on Broadway. All of these early assignments set the stage for feature roles in East of Eden and Rebel Without a Cause, films with which Dean is most closely identified. Seen in his short life as both a heartthrob and an actor who showed great promise, James Dean also came to embody the restless, but idealistic American teenager.
Movies & Movie Stars, Television, Popular Culture, Young Artists, Jobs in the Arts

Schindler's List

Arts Days: December 15, 1993: Angel in the Darkness
People who went to see director Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List were surprised to find the movie about the Holocaust was filmed in black and white. But the surprise gave way to deep emotion as the story unfolded. Spielberg wanted to shine a light on the little known story of Oskar Schindler, a German businessman active in the Nazi party, who saved as many as 1,100 Jewish people from death in German concentration camps by hiring them to work in his factories.

Actor Liam Neeson brought Schindler's character to life on screen, and the film went on to win seven Academy Awards®, including Best Picture and Best Director. The movie—including its final scene, in which real-life people saved by Schindler’s actions, place rocks upon his grave—is deeply moving and has captured the attentions of millions of viewers worldwide.
Movies & Movie Stars, History, Controversial, Europe, Military, Tragedy

Toy Story

Arts Days: November 21, 1995: Toys Will Be Toys
Once upon a time, there was a boy named Andy who had a room full of toys—playthings that just happen to come to life whenever Andy’s not around. Everyone is happy with the status quo, especially Andy’s favorite toy, Sheriff Woody, who’s the unofficial leader of all the toys. That is until a shiny new astronaut toy named Buzz Lightyear arrives and makes Woody jealous.

Produced by Pixar, Toy Story marked a sea change in animated filmmaking. Using new technologies, about 100 animators completed the film on a $30 million budget, as compared to The Lion King a year earlier, which had used 800 animators and cost $45 million to make. Toy Story's significant impact on the art of animation sparked an entirely new film genre of computer animated movies.
Cartoons, Comics, & Animation, Innovators & Pioneers, Movies & Movie Stars, Stunts & Special Effects, Popular Culture

Martin Scorsese

Arts Days: November 17, 1942: One Fearless Filmmaker
No one can argue that Martin Scorsese has brought a gritty new realism to movies. An asthmatic child, young Martin was often confined to bed. But all that solitary time allowed him to watch a lot of movies on TV, which helped to shape the visions behind his works. One of the most accomplished movie directors of our time, Scorsese is fearless behind a camera—unafraid to expose the violent underground of his beloved New York City in films like Mean Streets, Gangs of New York, and the especially unsettling, Taxi Driver.

He explores complex human themes of guilt and redemption, repression, and emotional conflict in films like Raging Bull, Goodfellas, and The King of Comedy. Scorsese, a 2007 Kennedy Center Honoree, has said that the movies he aims to make are “physically expressive, psychologically acute, brutally honest, and emotionally overwhelming.”
Movies & Movie Stars, America, Controversial

Louis B. Mayer

Arts Days: November 28, 1907: Movie Mogul
Purchasing a small nickelodeon in Haverhill, Massachusetts, near Boston, Louis B. Mayer—a Russian immigrant who started off in his family’s scrap-metal business—was on a quest to reach the top of the Hollywood heap. That’s right: He’s the Mayer in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, or MGM, one of the most successful movie studios of all time.

On his way up the ladder, Mayer turned that single shabby, little theater into a successful chain of movie theaters all over New England. In subsequent years, after Mayer’s company had joined forces with Metro and Goldwyn Pictures, MGM pumped out hits like Ben Hur, Mutiny on the Bounty, and The Wizard of Oz. Mayer, who believed in the power of starting small, became one of Hollywood’s legendary movie executives.
Art Venues, Innovators & Pioneers, Movies & Movie Stars, America

Performers dancing to Berkeley’s choreography

Arts Days: November 29, 1895: Busby's Babes
Back in the 1930s, one young man's dream job was to choreograph the most attractive, scantily-clad chorus girls on Broadway and in Hollywood. Born William Berkeley Enos, this innovative dance director created visually-stunning spectacles for his audience, arranging dancers in elaborate geometric shapes, and taking inspiration from multi-pronged kaleidoscopes or snowflakes.

Sometimes, he’d position dancers to look like the spokes of a wheel, or a human waterfall. And then, he would film these spectacular routines with a mobile camera. Berkeley also shot close-ups of each pretty girl, making what he called a “parade of faces.” The Berkeley touch is clearly obvious in movies like 42nd Street and Broadway Serenade. And believe it or not, the man never took a single dance lesson in his entire life.
Broadway, Choreographers, Innovators & Pioneers, Dance Legends, Dance, Movies & Movie Stars

Nobel Detonators

Arts Days: November 25, 1867: The Big Bang Theory
What's a good disaster movie without an explosion or three? Alfred Nobel’s famous invention, which he called “Nobel’s Blasting Powder,” made these blockbusters' explosion-filled sequences possible. Nobel discovered that when silica is combined with nitroglycerin, the resulting substance can be formed into cylinders and other shapes for use in mining operations.

Originally envisioned for these pragmatic purposes, dynamite found a whole new function when it came to creating spectacular special effects in the movies. From exploding cars to towering infernos, dynamite makes all kinds of explosive things happen. These days, on-set special effects experts make sure that dynamite is used safely.
Inventions, Stunts & Special Effects, Cartoons, Comics, & Animation, Movies & Movie Stars

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