The recent passing of the great Peter O’Toole naturally has drawn our attention to those famous people who have died in 2013. Yet, as I like to do every year, it’s far more interesting to recall the notable births in years ending in 13, to think about those who made an impact, changed the world, and (hopefully) left it a better place. (For those interested, here are the links to lists for ’09, a banner year; ’10; ’11, and ’12.).
Just a century ago were born an impressive number of people whose names are still on our lips, in many cases. Beginning the list with politicians may be a downer for many, but 1913 saw the births of U.S. presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, as well as Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin. Such politicians were abetted by CIA spymasters Richard “The Man Who Kept the Secrets” Helms and William J. Casey of Iran-Contra fame. Turning from the world of espionage and diplomacy, both American politics and society would be changed by Rosa Parks, born in Tuskeegee, Ala., this year.
The large cohort of artists born the same year could turn our attention away from politics. Writer Albert Camus (The Plague), and photographer Robert Capa were just two of those born in 1913 who changed our perception of the world. More enjoyably, perhaps, popular novelist Irwin Shaw (Rich Man Poor Man) and cartoonist Walt “Pogo” Kelly would soon be grabbing their pencils and inks.
Meanwhile comedians Danny Kaye and Red Skelton would make generations laugh while the awesome Burt Lancaster starred alongside Alan “Shane” Ladd, Lloyd Bridges, Victor Mature, Jim “Mr. Magoo” Backus, perennial leading man Tyrone Power, and Stuart Granger. These men were more than matched by the beautiful Vivien Leigh (born in Darjeeling, India) and Hedy Lamar. Perhaps Vivien or Hedy were draped in robes fashioned by Oleg Cassini, while others starred in movies with music and lyrics by four-time Oscar winner Sammy Kahn. For its part, the small screen would be changed by Mark Goodson, who perfected game shows such as Family Feud, Match Game, and The Price Is Right.
Our ears feasted as much as our eyes thanks to 1913 babies Muddy Waters, the ultimate bluesman, and jazz musician Woody Herman, as well as tenor Richard Tucker and British composer Benjamin Britten.
As for American sports, when you’re watching the multitude of Bowl games this week, remember that modern football wouldn’t exist if Vince Lombardi, Ohio State coach Woody Hayes, and Alabama coach Paul “Bear” Bryant hadn’t bellowed their first play calls in 1913. Just as important, star athlete Jesse Owens was born, who would challenge Adolf Hitler’s notion of racial supremacy just two decades later.
Turning to the sciences, understanding our origins as a species was propelled forward by paleoanthropologist Mary Leakey, the only notable scientist I found for this year’s list.
After that burst of reproductive creativity, the following XX13s seem a bit sparse, but 1813 birthed some of the more important people in modern history. In no particular order, they include the famous missionary Dr. David Livingstone (“found” by Stanley in Africa); scientist Henry Bessemer, who invented the converter engine bearing his name; American lithographer Nathaniel Currier, of Currier & Ives fame; financier Junius S. Morgan, father of the more famous J.P.; U.S. Senator Stephen Douglas, immortalized for his 1858 debates with Abraham Lincoln; Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, the first existentialist; abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher; explorer John C. Fremont; and composers Guiseppe Verdi and the incomparable Richard Wagner.
A century earlier, the most notable birth was Denis Diderot, a leading French Enlightenment philosopher and co-founder and chief editor of The Encyclopedia (L’Encyclopedie).
A correction from last year’s list must be made here, for it was actually in 1613 that the English poet Samuel Butler, whose Hudibras satirized the Cromwellians after England’s Civil War, was born, and not a year earlier.
Three centuries earlier, in 1313, the great Italian poet and Renaissance humanist Giovanni Boccaccio was born, whose Decameron has delighted and bored generations of high-school students. But for those worried about the world’s future, his setting of a globe consumed by the Black Plague provides a sobering backdrop to stories both funny as well as moving.
In 1113 came Geoffrey V, founder of England’s Plantagenet dynasty, which would rule Albion starting with Geoffrey’s son Henry II (played twice by Peter O’Toole), in 1154, and end with the quite possibly unfairly maligned Richard III, in 1485, whose bones were discovered earlier this year.
The final notable birth from the year ’13 in the past comes exactly a thousand years ago, with the arrival of Isaac Alfasi, a Talmudist in Morocco and Spain, whose compilation of Jewish law set the pattern for all legal codes to follow.
Not a bad list of people who pushed the frontiers of human knowledge, invention, and imagination. As always, one hopes that this past year there were born as many babes who will do the same for our world. Happy New Year!