The Daily Agenda for Thursday, August 22
August 22nd, 2013
Pride Celebrations This Weekend: Charlotte, NC; Cornwall, UK; Chico, CA; Copenhagen, Denmark; Foyle (Derry/Londonderry), Northern Ireland; Galway, Ireland; Lansing, MI; Manchester, UK; Moncton, NB; Ottawa, ON; Toledo, OH; Ventura, CA.
Other Events This Weekend: Big Bear Adventure Weekend, Big Bear Lake, CA; SHOUT LGBTQ Film Festival, Birmingham, AL; Windy City Rodeo, Crete, IL; Camp Camp, Portland ME; Provincetown Carnival, Provincetown, MA; AIDS Red Ribbon Ride, Rochester, NY; Vancouver Queer Film Festival, Vancouver, BC.
James Kirkwood, Jr.: 1924. With both parents as silent film stars and his father a director, it should surprise no one that the future author and Pulitzer prize-winning playwright would begin his career as an actor. In 1953, on the CBS soap opera Valiant Lady, Kirkwood played the title character’s son, Mickey Emerson. The fifteen minute program was a noontime fixture for four years, broadcast daily from New York. You can see one complete episode here, complete with organ music and commercials. (“Mickey” makes his appearance at 5:24, but you won’t want to miss the melodrama preceding that scene.)
That Kirkwood’s debut should be on Valiant Lady should also surprise no one, given that in his young life he had already experienced more twists and turns than could be portrayed on any soap opera. His parents’ careers were already fizzling by the time he was born, and the millionaire couple was soon flat broke. They divorced when he was seven after his mother left the family. Biographer Sean Egan, author of Ponies & Rainbows: The Life of James Kirkwood, writes that the younger Kirkwood stumbled upon the dead body of his divorced mother’s fiancée when he was twelve, endured kamikaze attacks when serving in the Coast Guard during World War II, and befriended Clay Shaw, the only man to be put on trial in connection with the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
With all of that going for him, it’s no wonder he decided to try his hand at comedy. His first semi-biographical novel, There Must Be A Pony! was based on the scandal surrounding his mother’s dead fiancée. Another novel, P.S. Your Cat Is Dead was turned into a stage play and a film by Steve Guttenberg. Kirkwood’s crowning achievement was the book he co-wrote with Nicholas Dante for A Chorus Line, which earned him a Tony Award, a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Book of a Musical, and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1976. He also wrote the comedy Legends! which toured the U.S. with Mary Martin and Carol Channing in 1987, and was revived in 2006 starring Joan Collins and Linda Evans. But for the most part, the fame from A Chorus Line proved to be more of a distraction than a boost, and the last fourteen years of his life were more notable for his unproduced screen plays, stage projects, and the epic novel about his father that he never finished. Kirkwood died of spinal cancer in 1989.
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