By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

I was going to start out the new year with all sorts of encouragement about fresh starts, resolutions and what a hopeful year this promises to be.   But a quick glance at the calendar quickly disabused me of any notion of improving or uplifting mankind because today is a significant day – Elvis Presley’s birthday.  All of us of a certain age have been influenced by him, or at the very least, his music.  My favorite movie with him was Blue Hawaii and I choose to remember him as that ukulele-playing, handsome heartthrob.  But the fact is that had he lived he would have been 81 years old today.  Seems hard to imagine Elvis as an old man, adjusting his dentures and screaming “whaaaat?” to his friends and family.  I want to remember him with the likes of Marilyn Monroe and Princess Diana – died young and that’s how he’ll stay forever.  I thought I knew a fair amount about Elvis until I started doing some research.  Like so much else in my life, I’m a lot more ignorant on the subject than I thought I was.  So…here’s a few little known facts about Elvis to commemorate his birthday.

Elvis was a twin.  Yep – the King of Rock might have been the Prince of Rock.  He was the second son born to his mom and dad but his older brother died at birth.

It’s good he isn’t in school now.  Wood shop was Elvis’s favorite subject in high school.  He didn’t like music that much and only got a guitar when his mom surprised him with one on his birthday.

He wasn’t an instant sensation.  Some of Elvis’s first concerts didn’t go over well, with one reviewer likening him to “a jug of corn liquor at a champagne party.”

Elvis wasn’t big on travel.  He only ever performed outside of the United States three times, and all three times were in Canada. In 1957, he played Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver.

“Maria” could have been his big hit record.  Elvis was originally pegged to star as Tony in the musical West Side Story. His manager Colonel Tom Parker nixed the idea, however, and the part went to Richard Beymer.

This could explain his weight gain.  Elvis only ever endorsed one product in his lifetime: Texas-based Southern Maid Doughnuts.

A little dab will do you.  One of the secrets to styling and maintaining his famous hairdo: a combination of Vaseline and rose oil.  I hate to think what that looked like when he was sweating.  While we’re on hair:

Only his hairdresser knew for sure.  Elvis’s natural hair color is brown; he dyed his hair black.

Elvis was his own security squad.  He was a karate black belt.

Where were the candelabras?  The idea for Elvis to wear more flamboyant outfits in concert came from none other than Liberace.

He could have lived in Beverly Hills or Scottsdale.  Elvis went under the knife in the 1970s, receiving a nose job and two facelifts.

He wanted to be the Godfather.  One film part Elvis always wanted to play but was not considered for: Don Corleone in The Godfather. Hard to imagine him making an offer than someone couldn’t refuse.

He must have been referring to Heaven.   Elvis’s last words in public were reportedly spoken to his assistant and concerned an upcoming concert tour: “Billy, son, this is gonna be my best tour ever.”

So, there you have it.  Some little known facts that you can ruminate on as you celebrate Elvis’ birthday.  Heck, at the very least it’s a good excuse to eat some cake.  I’ll just leave you with this quote from Johnny Carson:

“If life was fair, Elvis would still be alive and all the impersonators dead.”

Shakespeare By Any Other Name . . .

by Bob Sparrow

S birthday

The Birthday Boy . . . or is he?

While I was busy either hiking or trying to track down my friends in Nepal and Suzanne was selecting the menu for her ‘Last Supper’, we missed an important date last month on April 23, the birthday of William Shakespeare – he turned 451.  Don’t worry if you didn’t get him anything or even send a card, he’s used to being ignored. To wit:

Only four of the nation’s 52 highest-ranked universities require that an English major take at least one, yes one, Shakespeare class – those schools: Harvard, Cal, Wellesley College (Massachusetts) and the U.S. Navel Academy. Go Navy!

Dr. Chapman

Dr. Viola Chapman

Fortunately, my curriculum at Westminster College in Utah did include the study of several Shakespeare plays and sonnets.  I remember my first day walking into class and sizing up the professor, Dr. Chapman.  She was a elderly, diminutive woman with a stern continence, of course elderly to a college student in those days was anyone over 40.  She wore her hair in a bun and I thought she could have played the part of Norman Bate’s mother in Psycho.  I was petrified.  I was afraid not to pay attention, but once she opened her mouth, she had me. She was brilliant and quirky – she’d sit on her desk, swinging her feet to and fro, reciting, by heart and with an Elizabethan accent, long passages from Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets.  By the end of the first week, I was all in.  She brought the literature to life, she made me want to know more.  There is no question in my mind that my interest in and ultimate love of Shakespeare was a result of one person, Dr. Viola Chapman.  By the time I had graduated, I’d taken every class she taught and ended up with a minor in English.  She not only instilled in me a love of Shakespeare, but influenced my decision to become a teacher and ultimately try to turn high school students on to the ‘The Bard’.   She taught at Westminster from 1948 until 1972 and was the first professor to be honored as ‘Faculty Emeriti’ by the college.  She is without question, my favorite teacher of all time.

C Marlowe

Christopher Marlowe

If you haven’t really thought much about Shakespeare since you flunked that Merchant of Venice test in high school (like I did), then you may not be aware of the fact that there has been a long-standing debate as to whether William Shakespeare actually wrote all or any of the plays and sonnets attributed to him. Such luminaries as Mark Twain, Sigmund Freud and even Helen Keller have opined that Shakespeare wasn’t Shakespeare.  So who was?  Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, the Earl of Oxford, the Earl of Derby and several others have been debated ‘to be or not to be’ the ‘real’ Shakespeare.  The debate will not be settled anytime soon, and it probably doesn’t matter because if Shakespeare didn’t write those plays and sonnets, the real author or authors are also about 450 years old and probably dead.

A line from Captain ‘Hawkeye’ Pierce, of the old TV series M.A.S.H., even references the debate when he complained about a bad tasting breakfast, saying,  “This bacon tastes as old as the Bacon that wrote Shakespeare’s plays.” 

Whoever he was, Shakespeare continues to influence our lives today.

West Side Story

West Side Story

Some plays/movies that you may be familiar with . . .

     West Side Story – based on Romeo & Juliet

     Kiss Me Kate – based on Taming of the Shrew

     The Lion King based on Hamlet

You’ve also probably quoted Shakespeare, maybe without even knowing it, as he coined too many phases to be listed here, but a few of the more familiar ones are:

     Love is blind

     Neither a borrower or lender be

     The world’s mine oyster

     He will give the devil his due

     This above all to thine own self be true

And a favorite of mine . . .

     The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers

So a belated happy birthday to whoever wrote all that wonderful literature and a tip of the cap to Dr. Viola Chapman for bringing it into my life.

There’s probably a Shakespeare play being performed somewhere close to you this summer – I say go see it; at 451 years old, he may not be around much longer and you just might enjoy it.

Class dismissed!