Over a few posts, I’m choosing different creators or creative teams–novelist, composer, scriptwriter, comic book artist, etc–who have influenced or inspired me, and in most cases brought me a lot of enjoyment.
For each year from 1919-2018, I’ll pick someone who produced something significant or recognizable from that year–based on what year it was published or released (with comic books being considered to have been released on the cover date, although I know that’s not usually true). And of course, lifetime accomplishments beyond that year will play a big role in who is chosen and who is not. Because certain years were tricky, I’ve also allowed myself to pick people who were born or even died in certain years.
1932 – John Williams
Williams was born on February 8, 1932. He’s not the first movie composer to appear on this list, nor is he the last, but he is by a long shot the most influential, having scored pretty much all of my favorite films when I was a kid, and a lot more. Amongst his work are things like Jaws, Star Wars, Superman the Movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark, ET the Extra-Terrestrial, Jurassic Park, and on and on. His work is essential to the success of each of those projects, and I can still to this day hum each of those movie’s title themes. He’s also a skilled conductor and piano player, and indeed played the famous opening riff of Henry Mancini’s legendary Peter Gunn theme (which, spoilers, is going to get mentioned again on this list at some point!)
1933 – The Marx Brothers
Our first creative team to appear on this list, the Marx Brothers were Groucho (Julian), Chico (Leonard), Harpo (Adolph, later Arthur), and Zeppo (Herbert) Marx, a stage vaudeville act that broke into motion pictures in the late 1920’s. Actually, there was another brother, Gummo (Milton), but he never appeared in the films. Anyway, these guys were hilarious performer and talented musicians, and made some very funny movies. My favorite was Duck Soup, which was released in 1933, and was the last one that Zeppo appeared in before he retired from the screen and became an extremely successful businessman.
1934 – Dorothy Sayers
Dorothy Sayers is the third English mystery writer to appear on this list. Her most famous creation was Lord Peter Wimsey, a dapper but emotionally scarred aristocrat who scandalized the society around him regularly by investigating vulgar murders. Peter Wimsey appeared across 11 novels and a bunch of short stories, and distinguishes himself from the characters of Agatha Christie (see 1920) and G.K. Chesterton (see 1927) as having a fully developed, well-rounded personality that the reader connects with, and not only being a vehicle to solve the mystery or to express the author’s views. One of my novels has a blurb on its jacket which describes Sayer’s work as being in equal parts a romantic novel with detective trappings as it is a detective novel with romantic trappings, which sums up my appreciation of her work.
1935 – Woody Allen
Allan Stewart Konigsberg was born on December 1, 1935, and later became known as Heywood “Woody” Allen, a director of something like 50 movies. I haven’t actually watched anything of his for many years, but he has done a bunch of films that impacted me with their bittersweet view of life, featuring lots of comedy mixed with sadness. In particular I remember Zelig, Annie Hall, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Hannah and Her Sisters and Everyone Says I Love You, but my favorite of his films is probably The Purple Rose of Cairo, which is a bit of a love letter to cinema, Allen-style.
1936 – Robert Redford
I’ve never been that much of a fan of Robert Redford (born August 18th of this year) as an actor, but he is also a film director, and for two particular pieces of work I include him on this list. The first was The Milagro Beanfield War, which was a whimsical and quirky story about poor farmers in conflict with a large corporation over water access–a movie I enjoyed quite a bit. And the second, which I liked even more, was Quiz Show, about a real-life scandal over TV game shows. It’s a very well crafted drama featuring strong direction and outstanding performances from the likes of John Turturro and Ralph Fiennes. He also directed movies like Ordinary People and A River Runs Through It, and of course has influenced the development of independent film through things like the Sundance Film Festival.
1937 – J.R.R. Tolkien
John Ronald Reuhl Tolkien was an English writer who didn’t invent fantasy literature, but certainly did popularize it, thanks to his seminal work, Lord of the Rings. 1937 was the year that Tolkien published The Hobbit, which eventually became the prologue for the longer epic. I listened to my mother read that to me as a kid, and then eventually read it myself, and always loved it and its unlikely protagonist, Bilbo Baggins. I never got around to actually reading Lord of the Rings, which is slightly embarrassing to admit, but I have experienced a variation the story via Peter Jackson’s impressive movies, and from these exposures have huge respect for Tolkien’s imagination and creativity.
1938 – Jerry Siegel
In 1938, a comic book was published called Action Comics #1, which introduced a character called Superman, and changed the pop-culture world forever. Superman was the brainchild of writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster. As much as I respect and appreciate Shuster’s work, Jerry Siegel had much more impact on my comic book enjoyment over the years. In addition to penning his early adventures, he also had a notable run on the character in the 1960’s, writing a bunch of classic stories, including Superman’s Return to Krypton in 1960 and the imaginary story The Death of Superman from 1961. He also wrote a lot of the early days of the Legion of Super-Heroes, creating amongst other things, Phantom Girl, Invisible Kid, Brainiac 5, Triplicate Girl, Bouncing Boy, Chameleon Boy and the Legion of Super-Villains. The stories were often a bit silly but that’s a huge legacy to leave for my favorite comic series.
1939 – Frank Capra
Frank Capra is one of early Hollywood’s most influential film directors, producing films which created an idealized picture of America, but also challenged the same. In 1939, he released Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, which features a great performance by Jimmy Stewart, but his work also includes such memorable pieces as It Happened One Night, Meet John Doe, and It’s a Wonderful Life. That last movie is his most famous, and is something I didn’t really like when I saw it as a kid, but grew to love as I grew up. It’s a story that threatens to be greatly sentimental, but is told with such earnestness and conviction that it’s able to pull it off powerfully.
1940 – Gardner Fox
One of the most prolific writers in both the golden and silver age of comics was Gardner Fox. He wrote mostly for DC, shaping the adventures of the Flash, in particular, as well as Green Lantern, Hawkman, Batman and many others. He also created the original superhero team, the Justice Society of America, and later revived that concept to great success with the Justice League of America. Fox also invented the idea of the DC multiverse when he wrote the “modern” Flash Barry Allen meeting the “original” Flash Jay Garrick in “Flash of Two Worlds” in 1961, which quite literally changed DC Comics forever. All-Star Comics #3, which was the debut Justice Society story, was published in 1940.
1941 – Orson Welles
In 1941, Orson Welles co-wrote and directed Citizen Kane, and forever impacted all film history to this day. As my teacher told me, Citizen Kane didn’t necessarily invent cinema, but it did consolidate pretty much everything that cinema had done up to that point into one cohesive work. Studying the movie is a bit of a masterclass of the art of film, and it’s amazing that Welles and his collaborators were able to pull of such an impressive piece of work, particularly as he was only about 25 when the film was being made, and that it was his directorial debut! Of course, Orson Welles did a bunch of other stuff as well, most of which I’m actually not all that familiar with, although there was certainly some cool stuff in A Touch of Evil, including an extended opening shot which has also made its way into a lot of film classes. Welles’ also has an impressive voice, and did a lot of radio work including the infamous (though exaggeratedly so) radio version of War of the Worlds in 1939. He even had a recurring role on one of my favorite TV shows from my childhood, Magnum PI.
1942 – Kenneth Johnson
Kenneth Johnson was born on October 26, 1942, and had a notable career in entertainment, almost entirely around television science fiction in the 1970’s and 1980’s. He worked on The Six Million Dollar Man and created Jaime Sommers and her show, The Bionic Woman. He developed and produced The Incredible Hulk TV series with Bill Bixby, which definitely had my attention as a kid. And most significantly for me, he created the alien invasion drama V which told the story of a whole society reacting to the arrival of an alien oppressor through the lens of a broad range of characters–perfectly suited for the TV miniseries format. I loved the original mini-series (which he directed in 1983) and its sequel (which he wasn’t really involved with in 1984), although the ongoing series was a bit of a disaster. Johnson also created the TV version of Alien Nation, but I never watched that. And he wrote and directed the universally panned superhero movie Steel, which I’ve never seen but now I’m curious about.
1943 – Rodgers & Hammerstein
Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein are considered perhaps the greatest musical theater writing partnership of the 20th century. In 1943, their show, Oklahoma! was produced, which was thereafter followed by such work as Carousel, South Pacific, The King and I, and a little something called The Sound of Music. They also produced a version of Cinderella which I appeared in as the King in a high school production of. It’s not to much to say they completely revolutionized musical theatre, telling stories of greater emotional depth and complexity, and making the songs more intrinsic to the plotline than had been done before. A lot of their work has also been adapted into films, giving them greater exposure than they would have had otherwise.