Intl. Notebook Dec 3 2018
SHIRK HER DUTY
Television makes a celebrity of a natural born Kira.


Above is another cover of the Portuguese magazine O Século Ilustrado, this time with a non-Hollywood face. She's Kira Shirk, who gained fame when Europe learned she had been a sniper in the Russian infantry during World War II's Battle of Leningrad. The magazine explains that she's appearing on NBC's Big Surprise, a game show that culminated in a high pressure question worth $100,000 if the contestant answered it correctly. Shirk had pledged to donate part of her winnings to an organization called Crusade for Freedom. Did she win? No idea, but her question was supposed to be about weapons and war, so we're going with yes. Great image, published today in 1955. More here.

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Intl. Notebook Jun 17 2009
THE FORBIDDEN DANCE
Rudolph Nureyev’s defection from the Soviet Union fascinated the world—and changed his life forever.

One of the more interesting pulp events of the 1960s occurred when a little-known ballet dancer named Rudolph Nureyev broke away from two Russian guards at Le Bourget airport in Paris and dashed through a security station shouting in English, “I want to be free!” His sprint into Western arms made him internationally known, rocked the dance world, and strained relations between the Soviet Union and France. It was one of the first high-profile defections, and the inside story had all the pulp elements we love best—secret romance, political intrigue, lots of headlines, and a fascinating personality at the heart of it all.

For three weeks prior Nureyev had been performing in Paris with his troupe, the Leningrad Kirov Ballet, and in his off hours enjoying the City of Light with society friends. News of these associations had filtered back to Moscow and, concerned, Soviet authorities decided to summon Nureyev back to the motherland for a chat. For two weeks they had trying to get him sent home, but Kirov directors and the Soviet embassy in Paris had been deliberately unhelpful. Finally, on the day the Kirov was supposed to board a flight to London for the next leg of their tour, two Soviet security guards intercepted Nureyev and told him he was wanted in Moscow. His dash for freedom minutes later set off a chain of events that would end with him receiving asylum in France.

Most assumed Nureyev had been thinking of defection for quite a while, but Soviet records declassified in the late 90s suggest he planned to return home. There were rumors he had fallen in love with a beautiful Chilean heiress named Clara Saint—in fact, this story was reported in much of the Western press—but in reality Nureyev was gay and had been seriously involved with a male dancer from Leningrad named Taja Kremke. It was Kremke who convinced Nureyev his talent would never flourish in the Soviet Union, but still, left to continue his tour with the Kirov, Nureyev likely would have flown home at its completion. Despite his general unhappiness, it seems to be the actual arrival of the security guards that triggered his defection. When the guards appeared he immediately knew he was in deep trouble and feared returning to Moscow meant he would not be allowed to dance anymore.

News of the defection broke huge. The West gleefully used it deride the Soviets, who had been riding high on the triumph of sending the first human into space two months earlier. Soon the Clara Saint story began to be widely reported. But it soon became obvious neither politics nor love had been the primary trigger of the event, but a burning desire to dance and live unhindered. Nureyev got his wish—residing in the West he expanded his dance repertoire and acted in motion pictures. He also tookadvantage of his more permissive surroundings by pursuing relationships with famous men such as Tab Hunter, Eric Bruhn, and Anthony Perkins, and by posing for a very famous set of nude photos exposing his celebrated endowment. But he lost almost as much as he gained—he was completely cut off from his family back in Russia, and didn’t see his mother again until she was dying. Nureyev himself began to die from AIDS around 1990, and finally succumbed January 6, 1993. He was perhaps the greatest ballet dancer of the twentieth century, and the event that forever changed his life happened today in 1961.  

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
April 21
1918—The Red Baron Is Shot Down
German WWI fighter ace Manfred von Richthofen, better known as The Red Baron, sustains a fatal wound while flying over Vaux sur Somme in France. Von Richthofen, shot through the heart, manages a hasty emergency landing before dying in the cockpit of his plane. His last word, according to one witness, is "Kaputt." The Red Baron was the most successful flying ace during the war, having shot down at least 80 enemy airplanes.
1964—Satellite Spreads Radioactivity
An American-made Transit satellite, which had been designed to track submarines, fails to reach orbit after launch and disperses its highly radioactive two pound plutonium power source over a wide area as it breaks up re-entering the atmosphere.
April 20
1939—Holiday Records Strange Fruit
American blues and jazz singer Billie Holiday records "Strange Fruit", which is considered to be the first civil rights song. It began as a poem written by Abel Meeropol, which he later set to music and performed live with his wife Laura Duncan. The song became a Holiday standard immediately after she recorded it, and it remains one of the most highly regarded pieces of music in American history.
April 19
1927—Mae West Sentenced to Jail
American actress and playwright Mae West is sentenced to ten days in jail for obscenity for the content of her play Sex. The trial occurred even though the play had run for a year and had been seen by 325,000 people. However West's considerable popularity, already based on her risque image, only increased due to the controversy.
1971—Manson Sentenced to Death
In the U.S, cult leader Charles Manson is sentenced to death for inciting the murders of Sharon Tate and several other people. Three accomplices, who had actually done the killing, were also sentenced to death, but the state of California abolished capital punishment in 1972 and neither they nor Manson were ever actually executed.
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