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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

The Simpsons

Arts Days: December 17, 1989: Springfield Shenanigans
Isn’t it cool that the longest-running American sitcom features an animated mom with a mountain of blue hair? Yes, Marge, Homer, Bart, Lisa, Maggie, and the rest of their gang of neighbors and co-workers in Springfield just happen to be cartoon characters. And they happen to be hilarious, too, as they—helped by the show’s extensive staff of writers—poke fun at American culture and spoof sitcom conventions.

As created by Matt Groening, beer-swilling Homer, sax-playing Lisa and the others muddle through work and school, comment on everything from environmentalism to pop music, and love one another, just like any other normal American family. Blue hair and all.
Cartoons, Comics, & Animation, Comedy, Television, America, Popular Culture, Controversial

NBC

Arts Days: December 30, 1953: Now Brought to You in Living Color
It took decades to hammer out the technology behind transmitting color images to television sets. Among other things, broadcasting companies and the Federal Communications Commission had to agree on a standard way of broadcasting programs. As all that research and legal wrangling was taking place, manufacturers of TV sets were chomping at the bit to bring their products to market quickly.

Admiral had what we call “first mover advantage;” it was the first company to sell color TVs to the general public. Its 15-inch C1617A model cost $1,175, a pretty steep price tag even by today’s standards. Nowadays, of course, 99 percent of American households own a TV, and of those, virtually all are color sets.
Inventions, Television, Popular Culture, America

Loretta Lynn

Arts Days: December 28, 1970: Honky Tonk Woman
No kidding, Loretta Lynn really was the daughter of a coal miner. She grew up in Butcher Hollow, Kentucky, the second of eight kids. The family was poor in cash but rich in love, and Lynn’s childhood provided the material she needed to write several of the songs on this record.

Her honesty and emotional delivery delighted her many admirers and converted lots of other people into country music fans. Over the years, this 2003 Kennedy Center Honoree has penned many more songs, often written with a strong feminist perspective, which had been pretty much unheard of in country music until she came around. “Coal Miner’s Daughter” was also the name of Lynn’s autobiography and the movie about her life that stars Sissy Spacek.
Innovators & Pioneers, Music Legends, Family, Folklore, Music, Popular Culture

Carollers

Arts Days: December 25, 1818: Shhh!
Two Austrians collaborated on the words and music to “Silent Night,” which has become one of the best-loved Christmas carols, sung in churches and by roving carolers the world over. Father Joseph Mohr wrote the lyrics, while an organist named Franz Gruber composed the melody.

On this Christmas night, the two played the song in the Church of St. Nicholas in Oberndorf, Austria. Surprisingly, while today it’s usually sung at a pace akin to that of a lullaby, the song had a more up-tempo rhythm back then. If you celebrate Christmas with your family, think about offering a round of caroling for your neighbors.
Music, Popular Culture, Europe

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

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

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Arts Days: December 06, 1964: Not Your Average Reindeer
The cute star of this TV special was none other than that red-nosed reindeer, who is mocked as a calf for his unusual feature but is ultimately a hero when he bails Santa out of a tight spot on a very important night.

The program was shot using stop-motion, also called stop-action, which is an animation process in which producers make objects—in this case, clay sculptures of reindeer, elves, and other characters—appear to move by adjusting their positions ever so slightly, capturing the configuration on camera, adjusting the models again, filming the new setup, and so on. That’s how the snowman appears to glide across the screen and the reindeer soar through the air. Featuring the voices of folksinger Burl Ives and other recognizable voices, Rudolph is still a hit with kids today each December.
Cartoons, Comics, & Animation, Stunts & Special Effects, Television, Popular Culture

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

Wax Figures by Marie Tussaud

Arts Days: December 01, 1761: Waxy Lady
Anna Maria Grosholtz—better known as Madame Tussaud—was taught to make life size wax figures by the doctor for whom her mom worked. While the art of creating often eerily lifelike wax versions of people had been around since the Middle Ages, it was Tussaud and her traveling show of wax figures that made viewing such figures a form of “edutainment”—partly a way to learn about famous people of the past and present, partly just plain fun.

While Madame Tussauds’ London museum kicked off the phenomenon—today everybody from Benjamin Franklin to Jennifer Lopez to President Obama is on view at outposts in Shanghai, New York, Amsterdam, and its newest addition, Washington, D.C.
Popular Culture, Visual Arts, Europe

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

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

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Arts Days: December 14, 1987: Turtle Mania
They love pizza, live in New York City’s sewers, and fight crime. And, as any Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle fan will tell you, they are named after four key artists from the Italian Renaissance: Donatello, Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Raphael. “TMNT” are animated characters, which were created by comic book artists Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, and who made their television debut on this day in 1987.

Identifiable by their different colored masks, these courageous do-gooders battle bad guys with their martial arts skills, all under the watchful eye of their adoptive father, Master Splinter. This successful children’s program only fed the Turtles’ cult following as their likenesses appeared on a mind-boggling array of merchandise from sheets and action figurines to lunchboxes and pajamas. The fearsome foursome remain popular today.
Cartoons, Comics, & Animation, Television, Popular Culture

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

Rockband

Arts Days: November 20, 2007: Band Aid
First issued for Xbox and PlayStation, this video game lets players indulge in their rock and roll fantasies. Each player is rated on his or her ability to play music notes accurately using peripherals, or devices shaped like drums, guitars, and microphones. The game knows and alerts you when you’re singing off key or falling behind in tempo on the “drum kit.”

A team of players can form a band and compete together, earning points collectively against another team. Rock Band is not just a lot of fun to play, but it's helped expand people’s interest in learning to sing and play actual instruments. So, dream on because you never know, today’s Rock Band players may be tomorrow’s newest rock stars.
Inventions, Rock & Roll, Musical Instruments, Music, Popular Culture

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

Le Chat Noir

Arts Days: November 18, 1881: Come to the Cabaret
Today you think of these clubs as famous nightspots where celebrities like to hang out in Hollywood or New York. But back in Paris in the late 19th century, they were referred to as cabarets, and Le Chat Noir was perhaps the most legendary. Located in Paris’ fashionable, bohemian Montmartre neighborhood, Le Chat Noir, or “The Black Cat,” was envisioned by owner Rodolphe Salis as part nightclub, part salon.

Seated at crowded tables were well-known Parisian celebrities and their artist associates from around the world. On any given night, you could rub elbows with painter Pablo Picasso, composer Claude Debussy, or perhaps Jane Avril, the can-can dancer whom Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec immortalized in several paintings. They and countless others would talk, drink, flirt, and enjoy live performances. The party lasted until 1897, when the place closed up shop.
Art Venues, Europe, Popular Culture, Musicals

Jukebox

Arts Days: November 23, 1889: Music On Demand
When patrons arrived at San Francisco’s Palais Royal Saloon, they found a curious, cabinet-like object that played music. It was built by the Pacific Phonograph Company and had tubes poking out of it; up to four listeners at a time could pick up a tube and listen to the same tune being played. Of course, they had to drop a coin into a slot near each tube to hear a thing.

The man who installed the jukebox at this bar, Louis Glass, dubbed the machine the “nickel-in-the-slot” player. It was a big hit at the Saloon, and word soon spread from city to city of this amazing song-playing machine. By putting musical choice in the hands of patrons, jukeboxes revolutionized the way people listened to music.
Inventions, Music, Popular Culture, Rock & Roll

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

John Barry

Arts Days: November 03, 1933: A Musical Bond
John Barry had been working as a composer and record producer for several years when he caught a lucky, career-making break—he was hired to work on the music for a new movie called Dr. No. This was the first James Bond film ever made, and Barry’s arrangement of the “James Bond Theme” was soon tied to the very successful string of movies, starring Sean Connery as the suave British agent named Bond. James Bond. 

Barry went on to compose the scores for 11 of the next 14 Bond films, as well as music for other popular movies, including The Lion in Winter, Out of Africa, and Dances with Wolves. For these latter three, Barry took home the Oscars® for Best Original Score.
Composers, Music, Movies & Movie Stars, Music Legends, Popular Culture, Science Fiction & Fantasy

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

Grace Kelly

Arts Days: November 12, 1929: Beauty and Grace
From teenage model to Hollywood actress to the Princess of Monaco, Grace Kelly’s life was the stuff of fairy tales. She acted in TV shows, on stage, and in blockbuster movies, like Rear Window and Dial M for Murder.

Directors like Alfred Hitchcock adored Kelly’s golden hair and flawless features, and often cast her as the beautiful, but unattainable dream girl. But she also exhibited considerable acting talent in films like The Country Girl for which she earned an Academy Award® nomination. When she fell in love with and married Monaco’s Prince Rainier, the world—well, maybe just 30 million people—watched the royal wedding in awe on TV.
Movies & Movie Stars, Popular Culture, America, Television, Europe

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