What if there were Griswolds before National Lampoon?
What if there were Griswolds before National Lampoon?
One day, a New York City couple dropped several of their ten children off at an orphanage and left… never to be seen by their abandoned children again. One of those kids was Edith Massey.
Edith wound up in a foster home, where she endured cruel treatment. She put up with it as long as she could. As a teenager, she ran away to Hollywood with dreams of becoming a movie star. She became a barmaid instead. She married a soldier just after World War II, but she grew restless with married life and took off once again. She found herself in Baltimore, tending bar at a hotel. A customer — aspiring film maker John Waters — offered her a role in a project he was working on — an off-beat black comedy called Multiple Maniacs. Edith accepted the dual role of a barmaid and the Virgin Mary in a fantasy sequence. She soon quit her job at the hotel and opened a thrift shop. She also took roles in Waters’s subsequent productions, including her most memorable (and outrageous) performance as “Edie the Egg Lady” in the cult classic Pink Flamingos. Riding her popularity, Edith formed a punk band featuring future Go-Go’s drummer Gina Schock. Edie and the Eggs covered the Four Seasons’ “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and toured the country, sometimes in support of Waters’s film premieres. Her underground fame grew, as Edith posed for a series of risqué greeting cards. Using her earnings from her acting, Edith opened another thrift store, this one in Venice, California, where she stayed when it got too cold in Baltimore. Edith even appeared in a music video with John Cougar Mellencamp, as well as appearing on the cover of his 1980 album, Nothin’ Matters and What If It Did.
In an attempt to branch out, she auditioned for her first non-John Waters film — Paul Bartel’s Western spoof Lust in the Dust. However, Edith became ill prior to filming and had to drop out. She passed away in 1984 from complications related to cancer and diabetes. Edith was 66. A more unlikely star there never was.
Almost a century before Stonewall, William Dorsey Swann — known to his acquaintances as “The Queen” — fought for gay rights.
Born into slavery around 1860, William grew up in a tumultuous time in American history. He was freed under Abraham Lincoln‘s Emancipation Proclamation, but the Ku Klux Klan were a rising power in the campaign of suppression. William, one of the first documented Americans to use the term “drag queen,” was a fierce proponent of equal treatment for all people — specifically blacks and more specifically gay blacks. William organized regular drag balls for formerly-enslaved colleagues in secret locations throughout the Washington, DC area. While no laws regarding cross-dressing existed, William was careful to avoid the wrath of local police who looked for any excuse to harass and incarcerate those whom they deemed “different” and “threatening.”
In 1882, police discovered one of William’s lavish gatherings and arrested the organizer for silverware. William was furious. He and other attendees clashed with police, culminating in a violent resistance. The drag balls were often raided by police, resulting in the first documented arrest for charges of female impersonation in 1888. In 1896, William was again arrested, this time for running a brothel, a false charge, and jailed for 10 months. He wrote to President Cleveland requesting a pardon. His request was denied, but, undiscouraged, he continued to be a vocal supporter of gay rights.
William eventually passed the drag ball organization duties on to his brother, who happily continued the traditions. He even designed and created elaborate costumes with William as his inspiration.
William also mysteriously dropped out of history records. It is unclear when exactly he passed away.
After several minor roles in movies and television, Cicely Tyson was recognized for her soulful and passionate role in the 1972 film Sounder. She was honored with Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations. From there, Cicely’s career took off. With critical acclaim and more awards, she became an inspirational figure in the field of entertainment. She conquered stage, screen and television, receiving regular accolades from fans and peers alike.
In the early 60s, Cicely dated jazz trumpeter Miles Davis while he was finalizing a divorce. He told Cicely they would marry, but he married another woman instead. Over a decade later, after that marriage had failed, Miles and Cicely rekindled their romance and married in 1981. Due to Miles’ volatile temper and substantial drug use, their marriage was doomed. However, Miles Davis credits Cicely for helping him to end his cocaine addiction, thus saving his life. Cicely and Miles divorced in 1989.
Cicely was discerning about her roles, but that didn’t hinder her. She appeared in a music video at 86 years-old and she won a Tony Award for her performance in A Trip to Bountiful, becoming the oldest recipient of the award. Beginning in 2014, she was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series five times. She worked constantly — right up until her death on January 28, 2021 at the age of 96, two days after the publication of her autobiography.
What if Knives Out was a “Boston Blackie” mystery?
The late, great George Carlin had some things to say about camping, too.
After a stint in the United States Marine Corps, Don Cornelius tried his hand at a number of different jobs. He sold tires, then cars and finally insurance. He even joined the Chicago Police. But, the thirty-year old husband and father of two took a chance on a three-month broadcasting course. Upon completion, he landed a position at a Chicago radio station where he served as a disc jockey, as well as a news reporter.
After a year, he switched to local television, where he hosted a show called A Black’s View of the News. The program, which focused on issues affecting African-Americans, was very popular. Don was able to launch a daily music show, specifically to appeal to the sorely- overlooked African-American teen demographic. The show, dubbed Soul Train, entered national syndication in 1971, featuring former Temptation Eddie Kendricks, Gladys Knight & the Pips, and Honey Cone on its debut broadcast. Don was instrumental in introducing African-American musical acts to a wider audience. Sure, they were appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show and Hollywood Palace, but Soul Train had a different feel and the artists felt a more welcoming and comforting atmosphere. In addition, the program showcased African-American culture and gave a stage to lesser-known performers that were only played on so-called “black” radio stations. Soul Train also featured a regular group of young and energetic dancers who were influential among the home audience.
As host of Soul Train, Don was “your television friend.” His deep voice, iconic afro and timely fashions made him a reason to tune in to Soul Train. His daily sign-off — “and you can bet your last money, it’s all gonna be a stone gas, honey! I’m Don Cornelius, and as always in parting, we wish you love, peace and soul!” — became his trademark.
But Don Cornelius’s life was not without its troubles. In 1982, he underwent a lengthy brain operation to correct a congenital deformity. He admitted that he never felt the same post-surgery. He began to consider retirement from Soul Train and eventually did in 1996. In 2008, he was arrested and charged with spousal abuse. After many denials and two restraining orders obtained by his estranged wife, Don relented with a plea of “no contest.” He was sentenced to 36 months of probation.
After his retirement from Soul Train, Don essentially retired from public life, as well. In February 2012, police were summoned to his Los Angeles home, where they discovered 75 year-old Don Cornelius dead from a self-inflicted gunshot. His son later said that Don had been diagnosed with early signs of Alzheimer’s Disease and was in constant extreme physical pain. He explained that, prior to his death, Don often expressed “I don’t know how much longer I can take this.”
Over the 1921 Memorial Day weekend in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a 19 year-old African-American shoeshiner named Dick Rowland was accused of assaulting a 17 year-old white woman named Sarah Page. Rowland was taken into police custody. A group of angry white members of the community stormed the courthouse. Rumor spread among the black community that Rowland had been lynched. A mob scene swelled. Shots were fired. Violence heightened as white mobs looted and ravaged the black neighborhoods of Tulsa. The National Guard managed to get things under control on June 1. The riots left an estimated 10,000 blacks homeless, with property damage amounting to more than one-and-a-half million dollars. The death toll was an unconfirmed 200. Seven-year-old Olivia Hooker survived.
Olivia and her family moved from Tulsa to Columbus, Ohio. She attended and received a bachelors degree from Ohio State University, eventually becoming a third grade teacher. She applied to join the WAVES, but was rejected due to her ethnicity. She argued the decision and was subsequently accepted, however, she decided to join the Coast Guard instead, becoming the first African-American woman to join that branch of the service. She served until her unit was disbanded. She went on to work with the mentally disabled at a facility in New York.
In 2003, Olivia was part of a lawsuit filed against the city of Tulsa seeking compensation due to the local governments’ involvement in the massacre of 1921. The US Supreme Court dismissed the case without comment in 2005.
Olivia retired at the age of 87. She joined the Coast Guard Auxiliary at age 95. She passed away in 2018 at the age of 103.
What if Doris Day and James Cagney didn’t make a musical?