Saturday, June 28, 2008

Sir Charles Chaplin - King Of Comedy, Champion Of Downtrodden

Thanks, Wikipedia.

Sir Charles Spencer Chaplin (April 16, 1889 – December 25, 1977), better known as Charlie Chaplin, was an Academy Award-winning British comedic actor.

Chaplin was nicknamed the King Of Comedy and was also a notable director, composer and musician in early Hollywood cinema.

He was also a champion of the downtrodden. He greatly influenced other performers.

Chaplin acted in, directed, scripted, produced and scored his own films.

His working life in entertainment spanned over 65 years.

His high-profile public and private life encompassed both adulation and controversy. With Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and D. W. Griffith, Chaplin co-founded United Artists in 1919.

Chaplin's principal character was The Tramp, a vagrant with the refined manners and dignity of a gentleman. The character wore a tight coat, oversized trousers and shoes and a derby, carried a bamboo cane and had a signature toothbrush moustache.

Chaplin was born in East Street, Walworth, London. He was of British and Indian Iranian descent (his maternal grandmother was Indian Iranian).

His parents, who taught him to sing, were both entertainers in the music hall tradition. They separated before he was three.

Chaplin's father Charles Sr. was an alcoholic and had little contact with his son, though Chaplin and his brother briefly lived with their father and his mistress.

His father died of alcoholism when Chaplin was 12 in 1901.

A larynx condition ended the singing career of Chaplin's mother Hannah. She later developed a mental illness and was admitted to the Cane Hill Asylum.

Chaplin was subsequently placed in a workhouse with his brother Sydney.

Hannah died in 1928 in Hollywood, seven years after having been brought to the US by her sons.

Unknown to Chaplin and Sydney until years later, they had a half-brother through their mother.

The boy, Wheeler Dryden, was raised abroad by his father but later connected with the rest of the family and went to work for Chaplin at his Hollywood studio.

Chaplin first toured America with the Fred Karno (Fred Westcott) troupe from 1910 to 1912.

In the Karno Company was Arthur Stanley Jefferson, who would later become known as comedian Stan Laurel.

Chaplin and Laurel shared a room in a boarding house.

Laurel returned to Britain but Chaplin remained in the United States.

In late 1913, Chaplin's act with the Karno Troupe was seen by film producer Mack Sennett, who hired him for his studio, the Keystone Film Company.

Chaplin's first film appearance was in Making A Living, a one-reel comedy released in 1914.

At Keystone Studios, Chaplin became an instant success.

Chaplin's earliest films were made for Mack Sennett's Keystone Studios, where he developed his Tramp character and quickly learnt the art and craft of film making.

The Tramp was first presented to the public in Chaplin's second film Kid Auto Races at Venice (released 1914).

Chaplin was soon entrusted with directing and editing his own films. He made 34 shorts for Sennett during his first year in pictures.

Chaplin also developed his own company, which included actress Edna Purviance and comic villains Leo White and Bud Jamison.

In 1916, the Mutual Film Corporation paid Chaplin US$670,000 to produce a dozen comedies. He was given near complete artistic control and produced 12 films over an 18-month period. They included Easy Street, One AM, The Pawnshop and The Adventurer.

In 1919, Chaplin co-founded the United Artists film distribution company with Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and D.W. Griffith, all of whom were seeking to escape the growing power consolidation of film distributors and financiers in the developing Hollywood studio system.

This move, along with complete control of his film production through his studio, assured Chaplin's independence as a film-maker. He served on the board of UA until the early 1950s.

All Chaplin's United Artists pictures were of feature length, and they included A Woman Of Paris (1923), The Gold Rush (1925) and The Circus (1928).

After the arrival of sound films, Chaplin made City Lights (1931) and Modern Times (1936). These were essentially silent films scored with his own music and sound effects.

Chaplin's dialogue films made in Hollywood were The Great Dictator (1940), Monsieur Verdoux (1947) and Limelight (1952).

The best known of several songs he composed was Smile, composed for the film Modern Times and famously covered by Nat King Cole.

This Is My Song from Chaplin's last film A Countess From Hong Kong was a number one hit in several different languages in the 1960s (most notably the version by Dame Petula Clark).

Chaplin's first dialogue picture, The Great Dictator was an act of defiance against the barbaric and genocidal German leader Adolf Hitler and Fascism, filmed and released in the United States one year before the US abandoned its policy of isolationism to enter World War II.

Chaplin's political sympathies always lay with the Left.

Modern Times depicted workers and poor people in dismal conditions.

The final dramatic speech in The Great Dictator was critical of following patriotic nationalism without question.

He also gave the Soviet Union strong support when it joined the Allies in World War II.

After the war, Chaplin criticised the capitalist economy in the 1947 black comedy Monsieur Verdoux.

His following European-made film A King in New York (1957), satirised the political persecution and paranoia that had forced him to leave the US five years earlier.

After this film, Chaplin lost interest in making overt political statements.

During his days in the US, Chaplin was accused by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) of being a Communist.

Members of the US Congress even threatened to call him as a witness in hearings.

This was never done, probably from fear of Chaplin's ability to lampoon the investigators.

This was probably a wise decision, as Chaplin said that, if called, he wanted to appear in his Tramp costume.

In 1952, when Chaplin left the US for brief home trip in Britain, his re-entry permit was revoked.

He decided not to re-enter the US and settled in Vevey, near Geneva, Switzerland.

He briefly returned to the United States in April 1972 to receive an Honorary Oscar and was welcomed warmly.

In that year, he won an Oscar for Best Music in an Original Dramatic Score for the 1952 film Limelight, which co-starred Claire Bloom.

Chaplin's final two films were made in London both of which he starred in, wrote, directed and produced: A King In New York (1957) and A Countess From Hong Kong (1967), which also starred Sophia Loren and Marlon Brando.

Chaplin, who had a reputation as a playboy, was married several times - to actresses Mildred Harris, Lita Grey, Georgia Hale and finally Oona O’Neill.

Chaplin was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom in 1975, during the Prime Ministership of Lord Harold Wilson.

Chaplin died on Christmas Day, 1977 and was buried in the Corsier-Sur-Vevey Cemetery, Vaud, Switzerland.

Three months later, his coffin was stolen by a small group of Polish and Bulgarian mechanics in an attempt to extort money from his family.

The plot failed, the robbers were captured and the coffin was recovered 11 weeks later near Lake Geneva.

His body was reburied under two metres of concrete to prevent further attempts.

Statues of Chaplin have been erected at the Colosseum Theatre in Oslo, Norway, Waterville in Kerry, Ireland and Leicester Square in London, Britain.

Chaplin received a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame in the 1970s.

In 1985 he was honoured with his image on a postage stamp of the United Kingdom and in 1994 he appeared on a United States postage stamp.

In 1992, a film was made about Chaplin's life titled Chaplin. It was directed by Oscar-winner Lord Richard Attenborough (of Gandhi fame) and starred Robert Downey Jr (of Iron Man fame) as Chaplin and his daughter Geraldine Chaplin (of Dr Zhivago and Mother Teresa fame) as Hannah.

The film earned Downey a Best Actor Oscar nomination in 1993.

Chaplin was left-handed.

Spencer Dryden, the drummer for Jefferson Airplane from 1967-1970, was the son of Chaplin's half-brother Wheeler Dryden.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Freddie Mercury, Sudirman & Roman Tam - Three Kings From The Orient

Many thanks to the New Straits Times and Wikipedia.

Freddie Mercury, Sudirman Arshad and Roman Tam Pak Sin were icons of pop music in Britain, Malaysia and Hong Kong (China) respectively.

All three were Kings of Pop with extraordinary talents and showmanship. And all three died tragically young, yet lived life to the fullest.

Here’s a brief peek into their lives.

Sudirman Arshad (May 12, 1954-February 22, 1992)

Sudirman Arshad will forever be Malaysia’s King of Pop.

He was best known for winning the Voice Of Asia 1989 singing contest in London, Britain, defeating Hong Kong’s late, great pop king Leslie Cheung Kok Wing.

He was also known as The People’s Entertainer for he always sang about the common folk, their dreams and aspirations.

A diminutive man, Sudirman was affectionately called Abang Sudir (Brother Sudir) to fans and friends.

Of Johor ancestry, Sudirman was born in Temerloh, Pahang’s second largest town after Kuantan. His parents were Arshad Hassan and Romlah Dahalan.

Romlah was a politician with the United Malay National Organisation (Umno), the dominant political party in Malaysia. She was also a Pahang State Assemblywoman representing a State Assembly seat in her hometown Temerloh.

Romlah died of cancer at 32 when Sudirman was five.

Arshad, also an Umno leader, was a manager of the Temerloh Bus Company. He died in 1978.

Sudirman was the youngest of 5 siblings.

Active in music and drama during his schooldays in the Sultan Abu Bakar Secondary School, Temerloh and Sultan Abu Bakar Secondary School, Kuantan, Sudirman later studied law at University Malaya in Kuala Lumpur, graduating in 1980.

In 1976, he won the Stars of RTM annual singing contest organised by Radio Television Malaysia (RTM), the national TV station of Malaysia.

A year later, he launched his first album. 13 albums followed in his illustrious career, two of which were in English.

Among his hit songs were Apa Khabar Orang Kampung? (How Do You Do, Village People?), Balik Kampung (Home To The Village), Dari Jauh Ku Pohon Maaf (From A Distance, I Seek Forgiveness), Pelangi Petang (Evening Rainbow), Salam Terakhir (The Last Goodbye), Merisik Khabar (Searching For You), One Thousand Million Smiles, To Know Malaysia Is To Love Malaysia, Kulit (Skin), Chow Kit Road, Basikal Tua (My Old Bicycle), Penyu Menangis (A Turtle’s Cry) and Punch Card.

His songs carried messages of universal human values and care for the environment, multi-racialism and national unity. He was a staunch admirer of Malaysia’s first Prime Minister and founding father Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra.

Tunku Abdul Rahman greatly admired him and so did Malaysia’s fourth Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and former Deputy Prime Minister the late Tun Ghafar Baba (tenure 1986-1993).

In 1986, Sudirman won the South East Asian Music Festival performing his song Pesta Dunia (World Feast), a critique of how rich nations waste resources and allow poor nations to starve.

In the same year, he performed in a live street concert at Chow Kit Road, Kuala Lumpur. It was the largest street concert ever held in Malaysia. Some 100,000 people attended it.

He chose to perform in a street concert because he wanted to bring live entertainment to the common people.

Sudirman’s humanitarian song for world peace, One Thousand Million Smiles, earned him the Voice of Asia 1989 award. He won the contest held at the Royal Albert Hall, London, Britain.

He also recorded the song at Abbey Road, London.

Sudirman was capable of singing in four languages namely Bahasa Malaysia, English, Chinese (Mandarin or Beijing Chinese) and Tamil.

Sudirman frequently collaborated with acclaimed composers Datuk Ahmad Nawab, Ooi Eow Jin, S. Atan, Manan Ngah, Osman Ghani and Kassim Masdor and acclaimed lyricist Habsah Hassan.

He was also a lifelong friend of Malaysia’s Queen of Entertainment Anita Sarawak (Anita Taib) and her younger half-sister (their father, veteran actor Datuk Taib Salleh alias Datuk S. Roomai Noor was from Temerloh, Pahang and distantly related to Sudirman), model, actress, singer and businesswoman Noor Kumalasari.

Sudirman married Kamariah Jamaluddin in 1981. However, they were divorced three years later.

In 1992, Sudirman died of a mysterious illness which had afflicted him for a year. He was buried next to his parents in his hometown, Temerloh, Pahang.

Sudirman won several national entertainment awards during his lifetime including Best Performance in the 1987 TV3 Music Awards (Anugerah Juara Lagu) and Popular Male Artiste in the New Straits Times & Berita Harian Popular Stars Awards 1989 (Anugerah Bintang Popular Berita Harian).

He was also honoured with medals by the Sultan of Pahang Sultan Ahmad Shah (the seventh King of Malaysia), the eighth King of Malaysia, Sultan Iskandar of Johor and the ninth King of Malaysia, Sultan Azlan Shah of Perak.

Sudirman was also a talented cartoonist, novelist, journalist and businessman. He managed his own boutique and launched his own range of soft drinks called Sudi (Please).

He acted in a critically acclaimed film in 1982 about street kids titled Kami (We).

Tribute concerts to Sudirman have been organised almost annually by RTM since his death.

Freddie Mercury (September 5, 1946-November 24, 1991)

Farrokh Bulsara alias Freddie Mercury was a British musician of Indian Iranian ancestry, best known as the lead singer of the rock band Queen (inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2001).

He was noted for his vocal abilities and for his live performances.

As a songwriter, he composed many international hits including Bohemian Rhapsody, Somebody To Love, Don't Stop Me Now, We Are The Champions and Crazy Little Thing Called Love.

In addition to his work with Queen, he produced several minor hits as a solo artist.

Mercury, who was gay and was hailed as Britain’s first Asian rock star, died of AIDS in 1991, a day after admitting that he had the illness.

Mercury was born in Stone Town, Zanzibar, Tanzania.

His parents, Bomi and Jer Bulsara, were Parsis from the province of Gujarat in India.

The family surname is derived from the town of Bulsar (also known as Valsad) in southern Gujarat.

The family had moved to Zanzibar because his father was posted there as a cashier at the British Colonial Office.

He had one younger sister, Kashmira.

Mercury spent his early education in Mumbai, India.

Being left handed, he excelled in boxing, with a strong 'left hook'.

At school, he formed his very own band and was its keyboardist.

When he was 17, Mercury’s family moved to London. He then studied art at Thames Valley University.

Following graduation, Mercury joined a series of bands and sold second-hand clothes in the Kensington Market in London.

He also held a job at Heathrow Airport.

In 1970, Mercury joined guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor in forming a band which he named Queen. Bassist John Deacon became its fourth member.

As a child, Mercury listened to a considerable amount of Indian music, and one of his early influences was the Bollywood playback singer Lata Mangeshkar, whom he had the opportunity to see live in India.

After moving to Britain, Mercury became a fan of The Who, Elvis Presley, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon, Pink Floyd, The Beatles and The Jackson 5.

Another favourite performer of his was singer and actress Liza Minnelli.

Regarded as one of the greatest singers in rock music, Freddie Mercury possessed a very distinctive voice, including a recorded range of four octaves.

Over the course of his career, Mercury performed an estimated 700 concerts in countries around the world with Queen.

The British band was the first ever to play in a South American stadium. It performed in a hugely successful concert at Sao Paulo’s Morumbi Stadium in Brazil in 1981.

In 1986, Queen also played behind the Iron Curtain in Budapest, Hungary.

Mercury's final live performance with Queen took place on August 9, 1986 at Knebworth Park in London.

Mercury played the piano in many of Queen's most popular songs.

In addition to his work with Queen, Mercury put out two solo albums and several singles.

Although his solo work was not as commercially successful as most Queen albums, the two albums and several of the solo songs debuted in the top 10 of the UK Album Charts.

In addition to the two solo albums, Mercury released several additional singles, including his own version of the hit The Great Pretender by The Platters.

In the 1970s, Mercury almost married Mary Austin, whom he lived with for many years. However, their relationship went to the rocks because of his homosexuality.

Nevertheless they remained lifelong friends. He also became the godfather of Austin’s son Richard.

The Queen hit song Love Of My Life was dedicated to Austin.

After his death, Mercury left most of his wealth, including his home and recording royalties, to Mary Austin and the remainder to his parents and sister.

He also left money to his chef, personal assistant and driver.

In 2002, Mercury was honoured as one of the BBC’s 100 Greatest Britons.

Queen has now spent more collective weeks on the UK Album Charts than any other musical act (including The Beatles).

Queen's Greatest Hits is the highest selling album of all time in the UK.

Estimates of the band's total worldwide record sales to date have been set as high as 300 million.

Two of Mercury's songs, We Are The Champions and Bohemian Rhapsody, have been voted as the greatest song of all time in major polls by Sony Ericsson and Guinness World Records, respectively.

A statue in Montreux, Switzerland (by sculptor Irena Sedlecka of the Czech Republic) has been erected as a tribute to Mercury.

Since 2003, fans from around the world have gathered in Switzerland annually to pay tribute to the singer as part of the Freddie Mercury Montreux Memorial Day on the first weekend of September.

The statue itself stands 3 metres high overlooking Lake Geneva and was unveiled on November 25, 1996 by Freddie's father and Montserrat Caballe, his Spanish duet partner in the 1992 Olympics theme song Barcelona.

A Royal Mail stamp was issued in honour of Mercury as part of the Millennium Stamp series of the UK.

A plaque was also erected at the site of the family home in Feltham where Mercury and his family moved upon arriving in Britain in 1964.

In 1992, the remaining members of Queen founded The Mercury Phoenix Trust and organised The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert for AIDS Awareness.

The Mercury Phoenix Trust has since raised millions of pounds for various AIDS charities.

Roman Tam Pak Sin (February 16, 1950-October 18, 2002)

Roman Tam Pak Sin is regarded as the Godfather of Cantopop. He is also called the Frank Sinatra and Freddie Mercury of Hong Kong.

Born in Guangxi, China, he was a cultural icon to Chinese communities around the world (including Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and China).

He had a string of hits in a career spanning 30 years and was admired for his superb showmanship and powerful voice.

He was also the first major Hong Kong singer to pose in drag and nude.

Tam migrated to Hong Kong in 1962 when he was only 12.

After forming a short-lived band known as Roman And The Four Steps, he became a singer in leading TV station Hong Kong Television Broadcasts.

During the 1990s he accepted many budding singers as his students.

Two of them who later became famous were Joey Yung and Matt Cheng Ekin.

Tam also frequently performed duets with Hong Kong pop queen Jenny Tseng.

His hit songs included Below The Lion Rock and The Flying Swordsman, both title songs for popular TV series.

Tam, who never married, died of cancer in 2002.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Words Of Wisdom By Muhammad Ali

"My way of joking is to tell the truth.
That's the funniest joke in the world." - Muhammad Ali.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Zaitun Kassim - Passionate Human Rights Activist.

Zaitun “Toni” Mohamad Kasim, 41, who died after a long battle with cancer yesterday (June 3, 2008) was a passionate human rights activist of more than 20 years.

A firm believer in justice and equality for all, regardless of gender, race, religion, sexuality, disability and access to wealth, she was in the forefront of the country’s longstanding battle to uphold full gender equality for women, to combat extremist interpretations of religion, and to eliminate government policies deemed unfair to minorities.

She contested as an independent Parliamentary candidate in the 1999 general election and also actively promoted human rights activism in the local theatre and music scene.

Yves Saint Laurent - King Of French Fashion

Thanks, Wikipedia.

Yves Henri Donat Mathieu Saint Laurent (August 1, 1936 – June 1, 2008) was a French fashion designer who is considered one of the greatest figures in French fashion in the 20th Century.

Better known as YSL, the designer who died after a long battle with cancer on June 1, 2008, has also been hailed as the most consistently celebrated and influential designer of the past 50 years.

The son of an insurance company president, Yves Saint Laurent was born in Oran, Algeria.

He inherited his fashion sense from his mother.

Mentored at the age of 17 by French designer Christian Dior, he eventually became Dior’s company’s manager after his mentor’s death in 1957.

YSL was conscripted to serve in the French Army during the Algerian War of Independence in the early 1960s. After 20 days, the stress of being hazed by fellow soldiers resulted in his suffering mental problems and being hospitalised.

In 1962, he started his own label YSL, financed by his companion Pierre Berge.

During the 1960s and 1970s, the firm popularised fashion trends such as the beatnik look, safari jackets for men and women, tight pants and tall, thigh-high boots, including the creation of arguably the most famous classic tuxedo suit for women in 1966.

He also started mainstreaming the idea of wearing silhouettes from the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s.

He was the first, in 1966, to popularise ready-to-wear in an attempt to democratise fashion.

He was also the first designer to use African models in his runway shows.

In 2001, he was awarded the rank of Commander Of The Legion Of Honour by the then French President Jacques Chirac.