Today is a big day for us here at the DWC! On this day in 1892, American poet, Walt Whitman died of pneumonia at the age of 72. Also on this day, in 1959, American author, Raymond Chandler also died of pneumonia at the age of 70. And finally, on this day, March 26th, British playwright, Noël Coward died of heart failure at the ripe old age of 74.
Mr. Whitman is, of course, remembered best for his major work, Leaves of Grass, which he continued to update even upon his death bed! It may surprise many of you to know that this wonderfully lyrical work was periodically banned for being “indecent,” as well as for the equally powerfully moving poems, I Sing the Body Electric and Song of Myself. Whitman may have ignored conventional rhyme and meter, but his style is recognized the world over, for its unique, melodic speech patterns.
Although Whitman’s earlier works were far from popular, Ralph Waldo Emerson was among the poet’s early admirers. He found Leaves particularly inspiring, writing of the poem in 1855, “I am very happy in reading it, as great power makes us happy.” Well put, Mr. Emerson, well put.
Whitman’s final volume of poetry was the “Deathbed” edition of Leaves of Grass, which he prepared in 1891-92. It concludes with the prose piece, “A Backward Glance O’er Travel’d Roads,” in which the poet attempts to give us a glimpse of where he has been and perhaps… where we are all headed. We encourage readers, young and old, from every race, class and religion to pick up a copy of this truly epic piece of American literature today… for many of us, it is a “must-own”. For an excellent biography on this titan of literature, we will direct you here.
Now for Mr. Chandler…whose idiosyncratic prose voice is not so unlike Mr. Whitman’s, in that it is entirely unique. His first novel, The Big Sleep (which he wrote in three months and happens to be one of our personal favorites), hit bookstores in 1939 and introduced the character who would come to be synonymous with, and long outlive, his creator: the wisecracking, chess-playing, late-30s L.A. private eye Philip Marlowe. Although Chandler has not set out to write mysteries, it turned out he had a real talent for it, so he continued, penning a plethora of stories, featuring Philip Marlowe. Farewell, My Lovely (1940) and The Long Goodbye (1953) are, without question, his master works. Chandler also took to writing for the big screen in the early ’40s, adapting James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity (1943) and writing the original screenplay for The Blue Dahlia (1946), both of which, he was given Oscar nominations for.
The New York Times once said “Chandler wrote as if pain hurt and life mattered”. This statement holds up, even today. Whatever image you have today of life in mid-20th-century Los Angeles, you have because of Mr. Chandler’s rough, raw look at a city alternating between two worlds of luxury and lawlessness. Personally, we rather think the creators of popular video game L.A. Noire should have given Mr. Chandler a screen credit ;)
Moving on to Noël Coward…let us start by saying that Mr. Coward was truly a titan of his field, penning over forty plays, including musical librettos and film adaptations of his own work. Many people have attributed the notion of “celebrity” to Mr. Coward, whose debonair and stylish appearance, made him an early icon of the 1920s and 30s.
Coward wrote classics of high comedy that capture the period in which they were written. By far, Coward’s most spectacular show was Cavalcade, which opened in 1930 at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Cavalcade was a pageant of English history seen through different generations of the same family and if you ever get a chance to read/see it, you will be all the more enriched for having done so. Some of our favorite works by Coward include The Young Idea (1922), Fallen Angels (1925), Private Lives (1930) and Blithe Spirit (1941). Notable songs written by Coward include “I’ll See You Again” and “Mad About the Boy.”
What we admire most about Mr. Coward, was his ability to wear many hats. Musician, writer, wit…actor. In 1943, Coward received an Oscar for his patriotic war film In Which We Serve. Not only did he write the screenplay, but Coward composed the film’s music and starred in the film as well! If you’ve never seen it… go rent it today! You will not be disappointed.
Today, we hope you will observe the passing of these three very different but nonetheless important innovators of the craft. Whitman… with his lithesome and natural verse, that caresses the soul and cradles the spirit of America in so weathered, yet steady a hand. Chandler… the man who gave the dirty and decadent streets of 1930s Los Angeles a voice. Coward… a name synonymous with cheek, chic and superb technique.
Today, be vulnerable, be perceptive and be daring… be innovative. Cultivate a style all your own. Start a movement.
Write on in peace, you sleeping giants, Mr. Whitman, Mr. Chandler and Mr. Coward!