Sunday, December 23, 2007


It was on this day in 1964 that comedian Lenny Bruce (books by this author) was sentenced to four months in jail for obscenity. At the time, Bruce was using profanity in his stand-up routine, and he talked openly about sex and made offensive jokes about race, politics, and religion. During the trial, a police witness described Bruce's performance to the court, and Bruce claimed that the man was trying to steal his act. Dozens of artists came to Bruce's defense, including Woody Allen, Bob Dylan, James Baldwin, and Allen Ginsberg. After the sentence, Lenny Bruce became obsessed with the trial and he gave up performing as a comedian and began reading the court transcripts to his audiences. He died two years later of a heroin overdose, still waiting to hear an appeal of his case. It wasn't until 2003 that Governor George Pataki granted him a posthumous pardon.

It was on this day that the French playwright Jean Racine, (books by this author) was baptized near Soissons, France. As a boy, Racine was cloistered from society in a heretical Catholic sect called the Jansenists, and he was forbidden from enjoying the smallest earthly pleasures, especially reading. When one of Racine's instructors found him reading Aethiopica, a Greek romance, he threw the book into the fire. The young boy smuggled in another copy and after he had finished it, Racine handed the book to his teacher saying, "Here, now you can burn this one, too." Jean Racine is best known for his play Phaedra (1677), based on the Greek myth about Queen Phaedra who falls in love with her stepson and commits suicide after her husband, Theseus, returns from the underworld and discovers her betrayal.

It's the birthday of composer Giacomo Puccini, born in Lucca, Tuscany (1858). Puccini's four greatest operas are thought to be the last in the great Italian tradition. All begin with a love story, focus on the female lead, and all of them end tragically. They are La Boheme (1896), Tosca (1900), Madame Butterfly (1904), and Turandot, which was left incomplete at Puccini's death in 1924.

-The Writer's Almanac

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