Edison died October 18, 1931. The day he left the world, we lost a great man.
I wrote about Edison in my novel, "Somebody, Woman of the Century." My heroine, Cordelia, after a spat with the man she loved, was hoping to hear from him. He socialized with Edison.
From chapter 32: "Two days became four days, without hearing from Jackson. Was it already a week? Had she missed his phone call at the office? The date, what day of the week it was, was attached to names in the news, events in the lives of others. The 17th of October, Scarface Capone was sentenced to eleven years in the penitentiary. The next day,eighty-four-year-old Thomas Alva Edison died at Glenmont, his home in West Orange, New Jersey. Realizing it was a personal loss for Jackson, she couldn't help wondering if he'd be at the funeral. Newspapers and radios announced that all nonessential lights throughout the country were going to be extinguished for one minute during the evening of October 21st, as a tribute to Edison. Was it Jackson's idea? It could have been.
The date happened to be the 53rd anniversary of Edison's most famous invention -- he was the father of incandescent light, and much more, so much more. The time for the blackout was 9:59 p.m. Cordelia was browsing through the celebrity files, thinking she might write a tribute to the inventor. Of course you couldn't ask the nation to play an Edison record at 9:59 p.m., on their Edison phonographs. Or arrange a nationwide turn on of all radios. Most people wouldn't realize that their favorite radio announcer was using an Edison microphone, that stock market ticker tapes, flashlight batteries, camera film, the electric locomotive, composition brick, automobile electric starters, all that -- and more than a thousand other inventions which affected people every day of their lives -- were Edison babies. The day before he died, he'd been working on a process that turned goldenrod, the common backyard weed, into synthetic rubber. Would the world be riding on goldenrod tires someday?
"Checking the clock, Cordelia pictured Mina Miller Edison, Thomas Alva's wife for forty-five years. Would Mina mournfully watch her clock? like me, Cordelia thought, with my dream of being a woman who leaves a mark on the world?"
And me, Em the writer-blogger -- I can't bring myself to throw out TIME Magazine, JULY 5 2010, and an article by Bryan Walsh, a deep digging researcher whom I also admire, from whom I gleaned what follows.
"At Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School in Washington, children in the third-grade class bend over model cars designed to run on solar power. Working with a team of professional scientists from NASA and other federal agencies, they're putting finishing touches on the cars -- learning the way all trainee scientists learn -- through the sort of dogged trial and error that has always been the preface to American invention, a method Thomas Edison helped pioneer.
"Edison patented 1,093 mechanisms and processes, devices that would give birth to three enduring American industries: electrical power, recorded music and motion pictures.-- it's as if he spent his career inventing the biggest things, things that for me define 20th Century." Reading on, I learned that after three months in school, Edison was taught by his mother at home, where he put together a chemistry lab. As a working teenager earning dimes as a railway newsboy, Edison spend $2 (nearly two days pay) so he could enroll in the Detroit Public Library. At 16, he was an itinerant telegraph operator for Western Union. In his early 20's he was creating his first inventions -- forms of telegraph equipment. In Boston, he attended public lectures at the new Boston Tech, which later, became the globally influential Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In the 1870s, he created his own inventor community in Menlo Park, N.J. The laboratory and workshop -- his "invention factory" -- Edison once boasted, was the place where he and his team could develop "a minor invention every 10 days and a big thing every six months or so."
That's a rate that would suit Steve Jobs, and kids today. And it astounds me.
Thomas Alva Edison's birthday is a day to celebrate. The day he left the world is a day to celebrate all his gifts to our world.
I have photos of me on various walls in my home, not a lot, but enough to remind me, when I want or need to be reminded, that I have danced. Really-really danced, and done what I dreamed of doing when I was a little girl and vowed to be a dancer, till death do me part.
I see my feet. I always notice my slightly turned-in right foot. After my first summer in New York City, taking daily ballet classes at a school in the Metropolitan Opera House, my feet hurt when I walked.
A doctor told my parents I couldn't be a professional dance because my feet were built wrong -- they were almost "flat" -- with no arches, no "instep."
I took classes anyway, and spend hours exercising, pointing my feet. Even lying in bed at night, I pointed and positioned my feet in a turned-out position. I devised all sorts of ways to stretch the instep and make it bulge out like a dainty claw.
I knew a dancer in Robert Joffrey's Ballet company, who wore foam rubber falsies under her leg tights, so her feet, when she pointed, would have the high-instep look -- the look Balanchine wanted all his dancers to have. (For Mr. B., feet were probably more important than skinniness and long legs.)
Despite my feet, I danced -- really danced -- the way my child self wanted to dance till death do me part. I could float, fly, sway flitter, turn, leap -- but never would I have been able to dance and become the music -- allegro, legato, pianissimo, presto, grandioso -- if I were focusing on my feet.
Regret hits me when I see those photos of me dancing, when I ought to rejoicing.
Did Beethoven rejoice when he created music -- fantastically evocative, passionate melodies that we still sing in our minds today?
Beethoven couldn't hear it. Alas I can see my feet.
Golly, because of my turned in flat foot, bad foot, wrong foot for a dancer, I had devotion, discipline, deep passionate commitment to expressing what I wanted to express, dancing my way, dancing more a than a thousand one-night-stands, dancing in Europe, South America, Africa, the Far East ...
Regret? Hey, take a look at my right foot in this picture -- nice picture -- but look at that right foot.
Oh my -- REGRET? NO WAY! Cherish it, CELEBRATE IT.
"As you started out, whom did you want to be like, as an actor?" Em asks.
John admits that like most actors, what he saw in films affected him profoundly. Though he names some of his favorite movie actors, his thoughts turn to the plays he was in, when he started acting in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Acting in various American plays, it was the roles he played -- the words, the ideas that the great playwrights set forth -- that inspired him.
John Cullum says, "The play is the thing" that excites him, and interests him, keeps him going as an actor, more than anything else.
NEW! ... Emily Frankel and John Cullum offer lively, provocative video commentary on YouTube once a week. Click image above to go.
HOW I GOT HERE
I'm a writer, writing things that haven't brought me fame, but continue to involve me, inspire me to find an audience.
I started out as a modern dancer, contemporary, but balletic. I didn't want to be a swan, or a barefoot dancer. I wanted to dance to the music that thrilled me as a child, and made me want to be a dancer.
I began writing in the truck my first husband, Mark Ryder and I bought, in order to carry our set, props, and costumes for a long one-night-stands tour -- eighty-eighty performances in eighty-eight cities.
We were performing "Romeo and Juliet" nightly, but our marriage was breaking up. Every day while our stage manager drove us two-hundred miles or so to the next booking, I'd type a detailed description of last night -- what we did well, what we argued about, and a travelogue about the town, and comments from the people at the nightly party.
Recovering from the trip and the divorce, I sent my "car book" to a friend who said -- "Em, it's great, but ..." And that became rewrites, and another book. Then, my marriage to actor John Cullum, and then a play that got produced, and another book, big hopes because a famous agent loved it. The title and concept changed five times -- now it's been published, finally, as "Somebody, Woman of the Century." You can buy it, or read about it and my other five novels on Emily Frankel.com