Five People Born on April 5

Today is April 5, 2010 and the 95th day of the year in the Gregorian calendar.  There are 270 days left in the year 2010. According the Mayan calendar, there are 991 days till the end of the current cycle.  On this date, in 1792, George Washington exercises his right to a veto for the first time by any American president.  Here are five people born on this day.

Roger Corman (Born 1926)
The ultimate B-Movie, teen scream, low budget, exploitation film director was born today in Detroit, Michigan and moved with his family to Beverly Hills, California when he was fourteen.  After serving in the Navy during World War II, Corman earned an engineering degree from Stanford University. He broke into the film industry in 1948, where he began working as a messenger at Twentieth Century Fox. He was soon promoted to script reader. After a one-year hiatus during which he studied English literature at the University of Oxford, he coproduced his first film, Highway Dragnet, in 1954.His third film, Monster from the Ocean Floor (1954), was made in six days on a budget of $12,000; it was the first of his movies to follow what was to become his standard method of operation: inexpensive productions shot in the minimum amount of time. The titles of many of Corman’s films of the 1950s—The Beast with a Million Eyes (1955), It Conquered the World (1956), Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957), Teenage Cave Man (1958), Night of the Blood Beast (1958), The Brain Eaters (1958), The Cry Baby Killer (1958; the film that marked the screen debut of actor Jack Nicholson), and A Bucket of Blood (1959)—indicate why he earned the nickname “King of the Drive-in. ”In 1960 Corman produced and directed a cult classic, The Little Shop of Horrors, which was shot in two days and one night on a leftover set. During the 1960s he directed eight gothic horror films based on the stories of Edgar Allan Poe, including The Fall of the House of Usher (1960), The Pit and the Pendulum (1961), The Raven (1963)which absolutely scared the hell out of me when I was eleven, The Haunted Palace (1963), and The Masque of the Red Death (1964), featuring such established actors as Vincent Price, Basil Rathbone, Boris Karloff, Ray Milland, and Peter Lorre.In 1970 Corman formed New World Pictures, an independent distribution company that produced the work of such struggling young artists as Francis Ford Coppola, John Sayles, Martin Scorsese, Joe Dante, Jonathan Demme, James Cameron, and Peter Bogdanovich. New World’s first film, The Student Nurses (1970), was shot in three weeks for $150,000 and grossed more than $1 million. Other early New World releases included horror, biker, and women-in-prison films. The profits from these low-budget features allowed Corman to act as the American distributor for a number of prestigious foreign films, including Ingmar Bergman’s Cries and Whispers (1972), Federico Fellini’s Amarcord (1974), and Volker Schlöndorff’s The Tin Drum (1979).By the end of the 20th century, Corman had produced or directed more than 250 films. Despite their blatantly low production values, the majority of Corman’s films are surprisingly entertaining, literate, and often characterized by a campy, self-deprecating humor. His influence on contemporary American cinema has been enormous, in large part because of his discovery and promotion of young actors and directors. Though Corman officially retired from directing in 1971, he made a comeback with the well-received Frankenstein Unbound (1990), starring Raul Julia and Bridget Fonda. In that year he also published his autobiography, the aptly titled How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime, co-written with Jim Jerome.

Gregory Peck (1916-2003)
Eldred Gregory Peck was an acclaimed actor who was born in La Jolla, California who originally wanted to be a doctor before he was bitten by the acting bug.  He got his degree in pre-med from the University of California at Berkley before heading off to New York City, where he studied at the Neighborhood Playhouse and supported himself as an usher at Radio City Music Hall and as a concession barker at the 1939 World’s Fair. He made his Broadway debut in The Morning Star (1942), the first of three consecutive flops in which he appeared, although critics liked Peck’s performances.  Invited to Hollywood, Peck made his first film appearance as a Russian guerrilla fighter in Days of Glory (1944). Because of an earlier spinal injury, he was unable to serve in World War II. This circumstance enabled him to emerge as one of the most popular leading men of the 1940s. He earned his first Academy Award nomination for his performance as an idealistic missionary priest in The Keys of the Kingdom (1944), and three years later he received a second Oscar nomination for his interpretation of a journalist who poses as a Jew in order to expose anti-Semitism in Gentleman’s Agreement (1947). Peck’s other notable films from this decade include The Valley of Decision (1945), Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound (1945), Duel in the Sun (1946), The Yearling (1946), and Yellow Sky (1948).  His other great movies include: Twelve O’Clock High (1949), The Gunfighter (1950), David and Bathsheba (1951), The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1952), The Bravados (1958), and Beloved Infidel (1959).  Peck portrayed outwardly strong and authoritative individuals whose inner demons and character flaws threaten to destroy them. He was finally honored with an Academy Award for his performance as the ethical and compassionate Alabama lawyer Atticus Finch in the screen adaptation of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird (1962). His would also star as an anguished father in the popular horror film The Omen (1976), the titular American general in MacArthur (1977), and a rare villainous turn as Nazi doctor Josef Mengele in The Boys from Brazil (1978).  Throughout his career, Peck received the most praise for his portrayals of stoical men motivated by a quest for decency and justice.  Peck was also widely admired and respected as one of the motion picture industry’s most cooperative and least egotistical stars. Outside of his film work, he was tirelessly active in civic, charitable, and political causes. He served as chairman of the American Cancer Society and of the trustee board of the American Film Institute (which he co-founded), and for three years he was president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Spencer Tracy (1900-1967)
Spencer Bonaventure Tracy was one of Hollywood’s greatest male leads and the first actor to receive two consecutive Academy Awards for best actor.  As a youth Tracy was bored by schoolwork and joined the navy at age 17. Despite his distaste for academics, he eventually became a premed student at Wisconsin’s Ripon College (which was the thing to do for most early actors, apparently – see Gregory Peck). While there, he auditioned for and won a role in the commencement play and discovered acting to be more to his liking than medicine. In 1922 he went to New York, where he and his friend Pat O’Brien enrolled at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. That same year, both men made their joint Broadway debut, playing bit roles as robots in Karel Apek’s R.U.R. For the next eight years, Tracy bounced between featured parts in short-running Broadway plays and leading roles in regional stock companies, finally achieving stardom when he was cast as death-row inmate Killer Mears in the 1930 Broadway hit The Last Mile. He subsequently appeared in two Vitaphone short subjects, but he was displeased with himself and pessimistic about his chances for screen stardom.  Nevertheless, director John Ford hired Tracy to star in the 1930 feature film Up the River, which resulted in a five-year stay at Fox Studios in Hollywood. Although few of his Fox films were memorable—excepting perhaps Me and My Gal (1932), 20,000 Years in Sing Sing (1932), and The Power and the Glory (1933)—his tenure at the studio enabled him to develop his uncanny ability to act without ever appearing to be acting. His friend Humphrey Bogart once attempted to describe the elusive Tracy technique: “[You] don’t see the mechanism working, the wheels turning. He covers up. He never overacts or is hammy. He makes you believe what he is playing.” For his part, Tracy always denied that he had come up with any sort of magic formula. Whenever he was asked the secret of great acting, he usually snapped, “Learn your lines!”  In 1935 he was signed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, where he would do some of his best work, beginning with his harrowing performance as a lynch-mob survivor in Fritz Lang’s Fury (1936). He received his first of nine Oscar nominations for San Francisco (1936) and became the first actor to win two consecutive Academy Awards, for Captains Courageous (1937) and Boys Town (1938). In the course of his two decades at MGM he settled gracefully into character leads, conveying everything from paternal bemusement in Father of the Bride (1950) to grim determination in Bad Day at Black Rock (1955). In later years his health was eroded by respiratory ailments and a lifelong struggle with alcoholism, but Tracy worked into the early 1960s, delivering exceptionally powerful performances in producer-director Stanley Kramer’s Inherit the Wind (1960) and Judgment at Nuremberg (1961).

Bette Davis (1908-1989)
Bette Davis started her film career as a contract player for Universal, but she found success when she signed with Warner Brothers in 1932. That year she appeared in The Man who Played God (1932), the first in a long line of strong performances by Davis. Her role in Of Human Bondage (1934) led to her first Academy Award nomination. Two of her other films, Dangerous (1935) and Jezebel (1938), from that decade won her acting highest honor—the Academy Award for Best Actress.  All of these accolades helped establish Bette Davis as one of the top film actresses of her time. She continued to make several movies a year from the 1930s to the mid-1940s. Her flagging film career received a boost from her performance as Margo Channing, an aging stage actress, in All About Eve (1950). Another of her most memorable roles pitted her against Joan Crawford, a longtime rival, in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962). Davis starred as a former child star carrying for her disabled sister played by Crawford. The two actresses gave stellar performances as one of the most dysfunctional families to make to the screen.  In the later part of her career, Bette Davis took on a variety of roles. She appeared such films as the horror movie Burnt Offerings (1976) and the Agatha Christie mystery Death on the Nile (1979) . One of her final appearances was as a blind woman in The Whales of August (1987) opposite Lillian Gish, and many television productions. She died on October 6, 1989, in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France.  Bette Davis was married four times. With third husband, William Grant Sherry, she had a daughter named Barbara. While married to Gary Merrill, she adopted two children, Margot and Michael.  With more than 100 films and 11 Academy Award nominations to her credit, Bette Davis truly earned her nickname of “First Lady of the American Screen.” The Bette Davis Foundation was established by her estate to honor her. The organization provides scholarships to up-and-coming actors and actresses.

Booker T. Washington (1856-1915)
Born as Booker Taliaferro Washington (and you wanted to know why he just went by his middle initial) in Virginia, this African-American educator and reformer was also the first president of the Tuskegee University in Alabama.  He was born into slavery but, after emancipation, moved with his family to Malden, W.Va.  Dire poverty ruled out regular schooling; at age nine he began working, first in a salt furnace and later in a coal mine. Determined to get an education, he enrolled at the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in Virginia (1872), working as a janitor to help pay expenses. He graduated in 1875 and returned to Malden, where for two years he taught children in a day school and adults at night. Following studies at Wayland Seminary, Washington, D.C. (1878–79), he joined the staff of Hampton.  In 1881 Washington was selected to head a newly established normal school for blacks at Tuskegee, an institution with two small, converted buildings, no equipment, and very little money. Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute became a monument to his life’s work. At his death 34 years later, it had more than 100 well-equipped buildings, some 1,500 students, a faculty of nearly 200 teaching 38 trades and professions, and an endowment of approximately $2,000,000.  Washington believed that the best interests of black people in the post-Reconstruction era could be realized through education in the crafts and industrial skills and the cultivation of the virtues of patience, enterprise, and thrift. He urged his fellow blacks, most of whom were impoverished and illiterate farm laborers, to temporarily abandon their efforts to win full civil rights and political power and instead to cultivate their industrial and farming skills so as to attain economic security. Blacks would thus accept segregation and discrimination, but their eventual acquisition of wealth and culture would gradually win for them the respect and acceptance of the white community. This would break down the divisions between the two races and lead to equal citizenship for blacks in the end. In his epochal speech (Sept. 18, 1895) to a racially mixed audience at the Atlanta (Ga.) Exposition, Washington summed up his pragmatic approach in the famous phrase: “In all things that are purely social we can be separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress.”  These sentiments were called the Atlanta Compromise by such critics as the black intellectual W.E.B. Du Bois, who deplored Washington’s emphasis on vocational skills to the detriment of academic development and civil rights. And indeed, it is true that during the period of Washington’s ascendancy as national spokesman of U.S. blacks his race was systematically excluded both from the franchise and from any effective participation in national political life, and rigid patterns of segregation and discrimination became institutionalized in the Southern states. Even Washington’s visit to the White House in 1901 was greeted with a storm of protest as a “breach of racial etiquette.”  Most blacks felt comfortable with Washington’s approach, however, and his influence among whites was such that he became an unofficial arbiter determining which black individuals and institutions were deemed worthy to benefit from government patronage and white philanthropic support. He went on to receive honorary degrees from Harvard University (1896) and Dartmouth College (1901). Among his dozen books is his autobiography, Up from Slavery (1901), translated into many languages.