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The Flamingo Hotel

Arts Days: December 26, 1946: Vegas on the Verge
The gangster Benjamin Siegel—better known as “Bugsy”—was instrumental in the rise of Las Vegas from a patch of desert to an entertainment hub. In early 1946, Siegel met William Wilkerson, who was building a hotel called the Pink Flamingo Hotel and Casino. Siegel’s mentor Meyer Lansky wanted a piece of the Flamingo, and while Siegel initially balked at being away from L.A., he soon became invested in the construction.

He bought building materials on the black market and overrode blueprints for the hotel with his own ideas. Siegel was no architect, though; these decisions ultimately led to huge cost overruns and delays. On opening day, construction racket and drop cloths filled the lobby, and the air-conditioning—a first in this town—was on the fritz.
Art Venues, Popular Culture, Architecture, Controversial, Innovators & Pioneers

“The Howdy Doody Show”

Arts Days: December 27, 1947: Say Kids, What Time Is It?
The freckle-faced marionette Howdy Doody was the star puppet in this early children’s TV show, the very first regular network series to be broadcast in color. Set in the imaginary town of Doodyville, the show also featured human characters like Clarabell the Clown, who communicated with beeps of a horn on his belt and did not speak a word until the final episode of the show.

Then there were the characters that started as puppets but were later performed by people, like Princess Summerfall Winterspring, played by Judy Tyler. Buffalo Bob Smith provided the voice for Howdy, and he would also speak directly to the kids in the on-set “peanut gallery,” and he sang the show’s theme song in every episode.
Comedy, Innovators & Pioneers, Television, Puppets, Popular Culture, Young Artists

Beethoven

Arts Days: December 16, 1770: Music’s Master
Young Ludwig van Beethoven was first given music lessons by his dad, performing his first concert at age seven. He stunned listeners with his technical abilities on the piano and organ, impressing them even more when he produced his first composition at nine. The father of this child who would become one of the greatest classical composers in history hoped his son would follow in the steps of Mozart himself, who died when Beethoven was 21.

Beethoven went on to write symphonies, like No. 9 in D Minor, the first symphony written by a prominent composer to include a choral portion. Though he eventually went completely deaf, Beethoven’s genius was such that he still composed and conducted even when he could not hear a single note. Beethoven was a brilliant improviser, rule-breaker, and master of dramatic music.
Composers, Innovators & Pioneers, Music Legends, Europe, Music, Orchestra

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

James Brown

Arts Days: December 07, 2003: The Godfather of Soul
Rhythm and blues, funk, gospel, jazz, rock and roll—James Brown took all of these genres and melded them together into an unmistakable blend of music all his own. Dubbing himself “The Hardest-Working Man in Show Business” along the way, he certainly earned that title for his incredibly demanding performances.

During his legendary shows, he did splits, yowled, danced, fell to his knees—and oh yeah, he sang the whole time, too. Brown’s classics include “Papa’s Got a Brand-New Bag” and “Living in America,” to name just two; over the course of his 30-year career, he racked up 98 singles on Billboard’s R&B charts. Of those, 17 of them went to number one.
Innovators & Pioneers, Music Legends, Rock & Roll, Blues, Music, Popular Culture

Thriller

Arts Days: December 02, 1982: A Monster Hit
Clocking in at almost 14 minutes, the mini-movie that accompanied Michael Jackson’s hit song “Thriller” was like no music video that had ever come before. Directed by film director John Landis and featuring voiceovers by famed actor Vincent Price, the video starred Michael Jackson as a young man on a date with his sweetie.

A cast of dancing zombies and a teenage werewolf with hideous yellow eyes are just a couple of the surprises filmed by Landis, who co-wrote the video with Michael himself. In December 2009, “Thriller” was selected for the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress, which referred to it as “the most famous music video of all time."
Innovators & Pioneers, Music Legends, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Television, Music, Popular Culture, Rock & Roll

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

Charles Perrault

Arts Days: December 12, 1628: Father of Fairy Tales
Not many people can seriously lay claim to inventing an entire literary genre, but Charles Perrault is one exception. Relatively late in life, at age 67, Monsieur Perrault published new versions of old folktales in a slender book aimed at children. Complete with engaging characters, fantasy-laden plots, and moral lessons, the eight “fairy tales” in the book included “La belle au bois dormant,” otherwise known as Sleeping Beauty, and “Le petit chaperon rouge,” or Little Red Riding Hood.

He also used descriptions of actual places in France to embellish the stories; for example, Sleeping Beauty’s castle was based on the Chateau Usse, a real castle in the western part of France that centuries later would inspire Walt Disney himself as he designed castles for his theme parks.
Innovators & Pioneers, Europe, Literature, Popular Culture, Folklore

Pérez Prado

Arts Days: December 11, 1916: Mambo King
Of Mexican and Cuban heritage, Pérez Prado helped bring Latin music to whole new crowds of listeners around the globe. The “King of the Mambo” played piano and led bands throughout his career, including the Pérez Prado Orchestra—today led by his son, Perez Prado, Jr. in Mexico City. And, he wrote music for people to dance the mambo, better known today as salsa dancing.

Prado described his mambo as being “an Afro-Cuban rhythm with a dash of American swing.” Makes sense. Prado’s best-known pieces, like “Mambo No. 5” and “Mambo Jambo,” had American audiences dancing in the aisles of his concerts, which often sold out.
Composers, Innovators & Pioneers, Music Legends, Dance, Music, Latin America

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

MGM Logo with Leo the Lion

Arts Days: November 19, 1916: Studio Pioneers
Several pioneers of the budding movie industry—Samuel Goldfish and brothers Edgar and Archibald Selwyn—banded together to form a movie production company. They sought to meld their names together to front the new venture, quickly discarding “Selfish Pictures” for obvious reasons. “Goldwyn Pictures” sounded a lot better, and Goldfish legally changed his name to Goldwyn shortly thereafter.

The company had studio space in Fort Lee, New Jersey; remember the concept of Hollywood as the heart of the movie industry had not yet taken root. The company really didn’t fare all that well, and the partners ultimately severed ties. But all was not lost: Goldwyn Pictures later merged with other companies to form MGM, or Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
Innovators & Pioneers

W.C. Handy

Arts Days: November 16, 1873: Father of the Blues
William Christopher Handy, who composed “Beale Street Blues” and “St. Louis Blues,” among many others, was one of the first professional musicians to play the blues, a distinctly American musical genre. But he did more than most to elevate awareness of the blues; he helped popularize the sound beyond its traditional African American roots to a wider, commercial audience.

When Handy and his band moved to Memphis, Tennessee, his career took off, especially with the release of “Memphis Blues,” a tune he published in 1912 that many consider the first blues song. During the 1920s, Handy formed his own music publication company, a business that proved quite lucrative and also brought him great fame.
Composers, Innovators & Pioneers, Music Legends, Blues, America, Music

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

Mark Twain

Arts Days: November 30, 1835: America’s Good Humor Man
The author of one of the great American novels, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, wasn’t named Mark Twain at birth. He was Samuel Langhorne Clemens, taking Mark Twain as his pen name later in life. While he’s probably best known for creating characters Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, Twain also wrote travel stories, social commentaries, essays, and lots of other kinds of things, all characterized by his signature satirical humor.

All of his work was informed by his rich array of distinctly American adventures, from his time as a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi to his reporting for newspapers across the U.S. Without a doubt, Twain’s humor has remained timeless and relevant. So much so that each year, the Kennedy Center awards the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor to individuals who, like Twain, are social commentators, satirists, creators of characters, and fearless critics of society.
Comedy, Innovators & Pioneers, Literature, America, Controversial

Scott Joplin

Arts Days: November 24, 1868: The Ragtime King
Pianist and composer Scott Joplin was undoubtedly the best-known composer of ragtime, or “ragged time,” music. Ragtime’s main hallmark is its syncopated rhythms—marked by a stress on what would normally be an unaccented beat in the music, or a rest where there would normally be an emphasis. Popular in 19th-century dance halls, ragtime captivated music fans for a couple of decades before jazz became all the rage.

Audiences clamored for Joplin’s many compositions, like “Maple Leaf Rag,” “Pineapple Rag,” and “The Entertainer.” He even wrote a ragtime opera called Treemonisha. By combining natural piano talent and classical European training with the rich sounds of African American gospel hymns, spirituals, blues, and plantation songs, Joplin created a new American sound.
Composers, Innovators & Pioneers, Music Legends, Music, America, Jazz

The Nat King Cole Show

Arts Days: November 05, 1956: A First of Its Kind
When this 15-minute program debuted on this day in 1956, Cole became the first African American television show host. As a jazz singer and pianist with a large following of avid fans, Cole was excited to host the program, which featured performances by some of the biggest names in pop music.

Racist attitudes held by some, however, prevented the show from reaching success. You see, advertising agencies were unable to convince enough clients to buy commercial time during the show. When the program was cancelled, a bitterly disappointed Cole remarked that “Madison Avenue is afraid of the dark.”
Innovators & Pioneers, Television, Jazz

Viola Spolin

Arts Days: November 07, 1906: Play Acting
As an actress, director, and drama teacher, Viola Spolin used simple skits and other exercises to train actors to perform in believable ways. Her methodology formed the core of what we call “improv” today. Improv wasn’t originally focused on comedy, but evolved over time and today is generally defined as comic skits made up on the spur of the moment.

Watch a performance by acclaimed Chicago-based theater group, Second City, and see improv in rapid-fire action. Spolin, the “Grandmother of Improv,” helped devise ways for actors to warm up, focus, play, and make the connections needed to be spontaneous and hilarious.
Comedy, Innovators & Pioneers, Theater, America

A Vogue Fashion Show

Arts Days: November 04, 1914: Fashion Makes a Statement
The “Fashion Fete,” as it was called back then, was conceived by Edna Woolman Chase, an editor at Vogue magazine, the fashion industry’s go-to publication. Chase had a rather noble aim for the event: It was a benefit for French war relief—remember, World War I was raging at the time. The fete, that’s French for “festival,” featured clothes by American designers affiliated with stores like Henri Bendel and Bergdorf Goodman.

With French designers forced to close their Paris showrooms during World War I, Woolman Chase asked American designers to make clothes for models to wear during the event. Within a couple of years, fashion shows featuring models walking up and down catwalks to show onlookers every angle of a new outfit were pretty mainstream and certainly continue to remain popular today.
Fashion, America, Innovators & Pioneers, Popular Culture

Johnny Campbell initiates a cheer

Arts Days: November 02, 1898: Gimme a U! Gimme an M!
Back in 1898, a student at the University of Minnesota named Johnny Campbell led a crowd in a fervent chant meant to fire up their football team, the Gophers. This then, believe it or not, was the birth of organized cheerleading, which has evolved significantly over the years to become a sort of combination of sports and art that includes complex dance routines and physcial stunts.

It's technically considered a sport, and is heavily dominated by female participants. But back in Campbell’s day, the first “yell leader” squad was comprised of six young men, who encouraged the crowd to support the athletes on the field. For decades, in fact, cheerleaders were almost always male. And guess what? The cheer Campbell made up that day—“Rah, Rah, Rah! Sku-u-mar, Hoo-Rah! Hoo-Rah! Varsity! Varsity! Varsity, Minn-e-so-tah!”—is still a favorite used today by the Gophers’ cheerleaders.
Innovators & Pioneers, America, Sports, Physical Activity, Choreographers

Mickey Mouse

Arts Days: November 13, 1940: Animation as Art
This artful melding of classical music and animation, Fantasia is perhaps one of the most interesting experiments in the history of feature animation. Walt Disney, fresh from successes like Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, wanted to stretch animation beyond its traditional cartoon roots.

The film interpreted classical music through short bursts of animation, creating such classic sequences as Mickey Mouse’s star turn in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and the fire and brimstone dance of Night on Bald Mountain. At this premiere, audiences listened to the film through Fantasound, a sound system that enriched the music by making it fuller and more dynamic. In 2000, Disney released a sequel of shorts with similar pairings of music and animation, including Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.
Cartoons, Comics, & Animation, Innovators & Pioneers, Movies & Movie Stars, Music, Popular Culture

Haystacks Summer Evening

Arts Days: November 14, 1840: A Light Impression
Many artists wear the Impressionist label today, but it was a painting by Claude Monet that gave this art movement its name. That moment happened when an art critic looked at Monet’s Impression, Sunrise and called it “impressionist.” Ironically, while the critic meant his remark as dismissive of Monet’s style, the term became associated with a much-loved and respected school of century art.

Many works by Monet are characterized by the hallmarks of Impressionism: soft and changeable light effects, visible brushstrokes that reveal the artist’s emotions and personality, and the use of everyday things and people as subjects—from haystacks to playful children. Monet loved the natural world, and simple things such as flowers, the river Seine, and his personal garden in Giverny, France, inspired him.
Innovators & Pioneers, Europe, Nature, Visual Arts

Georgia O'Keefe

Arts Days: November 15, 1887: Portrait of an Artist
Simple, intimate, precise: These are just some of the words that characterize the painting style of Georgia O’Keeffe, who was inspired to paint flowers, deserts, bones, and other objects according to this aesthetic. She painted in New York City and New York’s Adirondack Mountains, and in the Southwest, near her longtime home in New Mexico.

O’Keeffe sometimes painted in a very abstract way; other times, in a literal fashion. She could render a skyscraper in blocks of color or paint a flower in rich, lush detail. O’Keeffe is considered to have been one of the key artists—male or female—whose work inspired and impressed European art and artists. And as a woman working in a field then dominated by men, makes her influence even more impressive.
Innovators & Pioneers, Visual Arts, America

The Sesame Street Muppets

Arts Days: November 10, 1969: Street Smarts
Breaking new ground in the realm of children’s television, Sesame Street was one of the first shows to combine entertainment and education for young viewers. With a mix of appealing actors of all ethnicities, plus puppets created by Jim Henson, the show uses songs, dances, skits, animated sequences, and other vehicles to help kids learn about letters and numbers.

Moral messages—the importance of being kind, why it’s always best to tell the truth—are also communicated to audiences by the human and puppet stars of the show. From Big Bird, Elmo, Bert, Ernie, and Oscar the Grouch to Bob, Gordon, Maria, and Mr. Hooper, the cast has taught and continues to teach generations of children “the basics” while strolling down Sesame Street.
Innovators & Pioneers, Television, Education, Puppets, Cartoons, Comics, & Animation, America

Kurt Vonnegut

Arts Days: November 11, 1922: “A Zany But Moral Mad Scientist”
With a unique voice that melds humor, science fiction, and social commentary with the absurd, Kurt Vonnegut is considered one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. In novels like The Sirens of Titan and Cat’s Cradle, he explores technology’s effects on the human race, (not always positive), and the dangers of social isolation.

Though his fictional works often paint a picture of a bleak world, he used wildly inventive characters—like the alien race known as the Tralfmadorians who appear in Slaughterhouse-Five—and his trademark black humor to lighten things up a little bit. Later works, such as Breakfast of Champions, are no longer overtly fantastical. As his themes shifted, so did his style in writing about them, becoming more straightforward.
Innovators & Pioneers, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Literature, Controversial, America

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