Thursday, June 30, 2016

JUNE 30 = "Gone With the Wind" is Published

On today's date - June 30 in 1936, "Gone With the Wind", Margaret Mitchell's sweeping epic about the American Civil War With was published. The book was an immediate best seller making Mrs. Mitchell (left) a celebrity which she didn't want to be.  And it was all from a book that she wrote out of boredom, and which she didn't really want to publish.

Margaret Mitchell Grows Up to Be a Reporter

Born on November 8, 1900, in Atlanta, Georgia, Margaret Mitchell was a child of a wealthy and politically prominent Irish-Catholic family. She had two brothers before her, both of whom died in infancy. Her father was Eugene Muse Mitchell, a successful attorney, and her mother was Mary Isabel "May Belle" (or "Maybelle") Stephens, who was a strong minded woman who in fact was a suffragist (a supporter of women's right to vote). So young Margaret came from solid stock.  And as a young girl she liked to write stories. her family was steeped in Southern Confederate history. When she was six years old her mother would take her on buggy rides past the old ruined remains of once grand plantation homes telling her of the terrible catastrophe of war that had destroyed all in its path. And she recalled her mother's words:

"She talked about the world those people had lived in, such a secure world, and how it had exploded beneath them. And she told me that my world was going to explode under me, someday, and God help me if I didn't have some weapon to meet the new world."

The weapon which Mitchell developed was writing. In 1918, Margaret enrolled in a college in Massachusetts: Smith College in Northampton.  In 1922 she got herself a job with the Atlanta Journal Sunday Magazine.  She flourished in this environment writing some 130 articles.  Unfortunately,  she suffered a broken ankle in 1926 and this brought her journalistic career to and end.

Boredom Leads to "Gone With the Wind"

Mitchell had married John R. Marsh in 1925 (an earlier marriage had failed in less than a year). While she nursed her ankle, her husband would bring home arm loads of books for his bored wife to read. Eventually he grew weary of this and said: "For God's sake, Peggy, can't you write a book instead of reading thousands of them?" Towards that very end, John Marsh brought home a Remington Portable No. 3
typewriter. Mitchell perched this little typewriter on a small desk in a corner of their small apartment (right), and for three years Mitchell worked on a Civil War-era novel whose heroine was named Pansy O'Hara. Mitchell said that she had the story all worked out in her head before she started. And she wrote the final chapter first, filling in the other chapters in fits and starts over the years of writing. Sometimes she would hide the manuscript to keep her work secret.

Mitchell  Seemed Reluctant to Publish...

She only showed it to an editor after being goaded into it by friends. And even then she didn't want to have it published. She denounced it on several occasions as “a rotten book” saying that she hated the act of writing. Eventually, Mitchell  gave the manuscript to Harold Latham of MacMillan Publishing in New York.  Mr. Latham had one substantial change to suggest: changing the name of the story's
heroine to something other than "Pansy". Mitchell agreed to change it
to "Scarlett".So the book was published on today's date back in '36.  And it caused a immediate to sensation, selling one million copies in six months. It won the Pulitzer Prize for literature in 1937. And of course the rights to it were snapped up by Hollywood Producer David O'Selznick (above) for a cool $50,000.00. Quite a tidy sum for that time.  The book had and to this day has it critics for its foolish and quite inaccurate portrayal of African American slaves as being happily devoted to their benevolent masters. The film version goes even further in perpetuating this age-old southern myth.  

Nevertheless, "Gone With the Wind" has gone on to be an American literary classic. As has the film
version - although  Mitchell opted out of any participation in the filming process. But she was said to have been pleased with the film. I enjoy watching it although I am fully aware of the totally bogus depiction of the master/slave relationship. The portions depicting Southern Society are accurate as are the depictions of the destruction and misery wrought upon that seemingly genteel world by that momentous conflict. One can only read Mrs. Mitchell's book or watch the film version and decide for themselves. In any event the personal publicity which the book brought to Mrs. Mitchell was quite unwelcome, and she became fiercely protective of her privacy thereafter. "Gone With the Wind" wound up being her only novel.  She died in August of 1949 after being hit by a speeding automobile while crossing a street in Atlanta, Georgia.

Sources =

"Past Imperfect - History According to the Movies" by Mark C. Carnes- "Gone With the Wind" by Catherine Clinton, Henry Holt & Co., New York, 1995.

Monday, June 13, 2016

SPECIAL = "Stage Coach" Mary

"...she drinks whiskey, and she swears, and she is a republican, which makes her a low, foul creature."
- Schoolgirl's Essay
“could whip any two men in the territory” and “had a fondness for hard liquor that was matched only by her capacity to put it away.”
- Actor Gary Cooper

These are two very similar reactions to one of the oddest characters in the history of America's Old West: Miss Mary Fields,  otherwise known as "Stagecoach Mary".  I first became aware of Mary while watching the first half of the final season of "Hell on Wheels" the western drama on the AMC Television Network.  And I was so intrigued that I had to do a posting about her, now that the series is in its final season. I'm not even sure that Mary will make any appearances in the remaining episodes. But I wanted to write just a little about her while she's still in my mind. I'm not certain how many of the characters in "Hell on Wheels" are based on actual historical figures, other than Thomas C.
Durant, President Grant, and Brigham Young. But "Stagecoach Mary" played by Amber Chardae Robinson (left) just seemed too odd an addition to be fictional, so I looked her up and there she was, very much a real, fact-based character - ALWAYS ready for a fight!!

Stagecoach Mary Was Born a  Slave

Stagecoach Mary began life as a slave - Mary Fields - in Marin Hickman County, Tennessee, where she was born around 1832. As she was a slave child records are sketchy. But with the end of the Civil War came an end to legal slavery in the United States.  She worked for a time in the home of Judge Edmund Dunne. Following the death of the Judge's wife Josephine in 1883 in San Antonio, Florida, Fields took the family's five children to live with their Aunt, Mother Mary Amadeus (below),
the Mother Superior of a convent in Toledo, Ohio. Mary Amadeus was assigned to set up a school for Native American girls: St. Peter's Mission in Cascade Montana. Mary Fields was very fond of Mother Mary, so when she received word that Mother Mary was ill with pneumonia, Fields rushed to Montana, and nursed her back to health. After Amadeus recovered Fields stayed on at St. Peter's doing laundry, growing vegetables, tending chickens, as well as some typically men's jobs such as hauling freight, repairing buildings and eventually becoming the forewoman.

Mary Fields is Obliged to Leave Montana

Around 1894, Mary Fields had developed some pretty hard drinking habits, and she wasn't at all shy about asserting her authority over the male employees of St. Peter's (below). The Native Americans named
Fields as the "White Crow" because they said "she acts like a white woman but has black skin." Indeed the essay from the schoolgirl at the top of this posting was written during this time. After some complaints by one such employee who was angry that this black woman made more than he did an incident that involved some gunplay broke out and the Bishop asked her to leave. She tried opening up a kitchen, but this failed after two years either because she gave food away  to too many of the needy who couldn't afford it, or just because she was a lousy cook, depending on which internet source you believe. But there was as opening for a stagecoach driver for the U.S. Postal Service. Mary managed to win this job either because she could hitch a team of horses more quickly than the other applicants, or because Mary Amadeus interceded on her behalf, again depending on whose internet account you are reading.

 Mary Fields Becomes "Stage Coach Mary"

Mary's physical appearance by this time was most imposing: Fields stood 6 feet tall and weighed about 200 lbs, and liked to smoke a rather pungent type of hand-rolled cigar. Her skin was once described as "black as a burnt-over prairie." She was known to pack a pistol
strapped under her apron, and always had a jug of whiskey by her side. She dressed in much the same garb a man would in her job, wearing a wool cap and boots with her apron covering her in front. But importantly, her acquisition of this job made her was the first African-American woman employed as a mail carrier in the United States and the second woman to work for the United States Postal Service. And she achieved all of this at the age of 60! She never married and though she was quite literate she left no writings behind. She drove her route utilizing horses and a mule named Moses. And she earned her moniker "Stage Coach Mary" by being utterly and relentlessly reliable. She never missed a day of work, and if the snow was too deep for her horses to make it the full distance, she would slap on snowshoes, sling the mail over her back and make the delivery on foot.

Stagecoach Mary's Retirement and Legacy

All of this hard living, and hard riding eventually began to take its toll even on such a sturdy woman as Stagecoach Mary.  So she finally retired in 1901 to Cascade Montana. But she still needed a source of income, so she opened a laundry service. And she regularly supported the local baseball team (below). She had a standing bet (which she never lost) that she could knock out any man with one punch. And
the mayor granted her a permit that made her the only woman who wasn't a prostitute who could drink in any bar in town. Her personality was indeed remarkable and pugnacious to say the least. But her contribution to not only women's history, but also to the history of Montana was also important . In the words of : "...reaching remote miner's cabins and other outposts with important mail which helped to accommodate the land claim process, as well as other matters needing expeditious communication. These efforts on her part helped greatly to advance the development of a considerable portion of central Montana, a contribution for which she is given little credit."

Miss Mary Fields died in 1914.  A young boy who lived in Cascade during Mary's retirement years, who would grow up to be the movie star, Gary Cooper wrote of her in "Ebony" magazine in 1959:
"Born a slave somewhere in Tennessee, Mary lived to become one of the freest souls ever to draw a breath, or a .38."

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

JUNE 8 = James Earl Ray is Arrested

On today's date, June 8 in 1968, James Earl Ray, was arrested in London, England, and charged with the assassination of African American civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.  On April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Dr. King was killed by a gunshot from a sniper while he stood on the balcony of his room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.  Later that evening, investigators found a Remington .30-06 hunting rifle one block from the Lorraine on a sidewalk by a rooming house near the Motel.  Over subsequent weeks, the weapon, fingerprints found on it, as well as eyewitness accounts all combined to point a guilty finger one James Earl Ray (above), a small-time criminal who had escaped from a prison in Missouri wherein he was serving a sentence for a holdup, and from which he had escaped in April of 1967. Ray had been able to escape the massive manhunt that had been seeking him by using a false ID to acquire a Canadian passport which was fairly easy to do at that time.

Ray - the Likely Suspect

Since his escape from prison in Missouri, Ray had moved around the south and southwest of the U.S.,
even spending time in Mexico trying to produce pornographic films. But eventually he returned to Los Angeles, CA. where he took an interest in George Wallace's presidential campaign.  Ray was an outspoken racist, and liked Wallace's segregationist platform. He considered moving to Rhodesia where a white minority government ruled. Indeed this was Ray's ultimate destination when he was arrested by investigators from Scotland Yard on today's date at London's Heathrow Airport. The name on Ray's passport -- Sneyd -- was on a watchlist kept by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Officials then noticed that Ray carried a second passport under a second name.  Clearly this man up to something.  So he was apprehended by Scotland Yard and identified as the suspect in the murder of Dr. King.  He was then quickly extradited back to the U.S. where he was charged with Dr. King's killing.  Ray stood before a Memphis judge in March 1969 and pleaded guilty to King’s murder in order to avoid the electric chair. He was sentenced to 99 years in prison.

Ray Recants Confession, Later Attempts to Escape.

It took Ray a mere three days to recant his confession.  He claimed that he had been set up as a "patsy" in a larger conspiracy  Allegedly a shadowy character named "Raoul" had gotten him involved in a gun-running scheme.  But by April 4 he realized that he was the intended fall-guy for the King murder, and that this had been why he had fled to Canada and from there on to London.
Ray’s motion was denied, as were his dozens of other requests for a trial during the next 29 years. Ray made an attempt with six fellow convicts to flee captivity, escaping from the Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary in Petros, Tennessee, on June 10, 1977. But this freedom was short-lived as Ray and the others were recaptured on June 13. A year was added to Ray's previous sentence, totaling it to 100 years. There have been numerous conspiracy theories set up around this case as always happens in the case of political murders. Some of these theories have even been supported by some members of the late Dr. King's family.  But  none of them ever held up. Ray died at the Columbia Nashville Memorial Hospital in Nashville on April 23, 1998, at the age of 70, from complications related to kidney disease and liver failure caused by hepatitis.

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Thursday, May 12, 2016

MAY 12 = The Civil War's Last Battle

"Boys, we have done finely. We will let well enough alone, and retire."

These were the words of Col. John "Rip" Ford to his men following the Battle of Palmetto Ranch which begun on today's date, May 12 in 1865. This was the final battle of the American Civil war which was begun for reasons that are not clear.

The Troops in Texas

As he Civil War drew to a close, there were troops spread out all over the country. More than a full month after Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox there were still several thousand troops on both sides in Texas. At the southernmost tip of the state where the Rio Grande River empties into the Gulf of Mexico lay Brazos Santiago Island wherein was stationed 2,000 Union troops. Among these were the 62nd and 87th U.S. Colored Infantry, the 34th Indiana and a small number of loyal Texans who had signed on for cavalry service but were dismounted for lack of horses. Facing them across the bay and some miles inland, were some 1,200 men left by March 31 under the command of Confederate Brig. Gen. James E. Slaughter.

Barrett Moves Against the Rebels

These troops had been observing a kind of unofficial truce for some time.  But for reasons that are unknown Union Colonel Theodore H. Barrett (below) ordered an attack on a Confederate camp near Fort Brown. It has been suggested that Barrett may have been looking to get
in some combat before the war was over. He may have been after  some of the horses which the Confederates had. Whatever his reasons, Col. Barrett ordered some 250 men of his "colored" troops, and 50 of his dismounted cavalry to cross from Brazos Island to the mainland at Boca Chica Pass and move to occupy Brownsville. Under the command of Lt. Col. David Branson they did so on May 11 at 9:30 pm. They then marched all night, reaching White's Ranch by daybreak on the 12th.  There they stopped to rest, but were seen by Rebel Scouts. Barrett had hoped to surprise the rebels at Brownsville, but realizing that he had been spotted he immediately resumed his march to his target.

The Battle of Palmetto Ranch

Branson's men left at 8:30 that morning traversing 112 miles to Palmetto Ranch, arriving at noon. Once there they immediately fell into a skirmish with Capt. W. N. Robinson's 190 man company of Texas Cavalry Battalion,  The two sides exchanged gunfire, but nobody was injured. After this brief exchange, the rebels fell back. Branson's men did not pursue, but instead moved into the ranch and made their dinner. In the meantime, Robinson sent word of the attack back to Brownsville, where Col. Ford (below) began gathering up as many men
as he could to come to Robinson's aid. But Robinson was not waiting for reinforcements. He gathered up what men he could and launched a bold counterattack later that day taking Branson's men quite by surprise, sending then reeling back towards White Ranch. From there Branson sent word to Col. Barrett, asking for reinforcement. This, Barrett did arriving himself with 200 men from his Indiana regiment. He arrived at about 5:30 a.m. on the 13th.  These men fought Robinson's 190 man force, pushing them back, until Col. Ford arrived with rebel reinforcements of about 300 men, and artillery. This force then unleashed cannon fire on Barrett's force, forcing them all the way back to Brazos Island. At this point the "colored" troops formed a line and were able to beat off the attack Ford's force leading to his quote from the top of this posting.

The Last Man Killed....

In all of this fighting in what was clearly a Confederate victory in this final battle of the Civil War, the Union suffered only four men killed.  One of these was the last man killed in the Civil War: John J. Williams of the 34th Indiana Infantry, pictured at right.

Sources =

Monday, April 11, 2016

APRIL 11 = Truman Relieves MacArthur

“It is right for us to be in Korea... (it) would be wrong—tragically wrong—for us to take the initiative in extending the war… Our aim is to avoid the spread of the conflict...I believe that we must try to limit the war to Korea for these vital reasons: To make sure that the precious lives of our fighting men are not wasted; to see that the security of our country and the free world is not needlessly jeopardized; and to prevent a third world war.” (General MacArthur was being relieved) “so that there would be no doubt or confusion as to the real purpose and aim of our policy.”

President Harry S. Truman relieved General Douglas MacArthur of his command of U.S. forces in Korea on today's date, April 11 in 1951.  The General had been butting head with the president for some time over how far the war in Korea was going to be taken, and this lead the
president to decide that it was time for Big Mac to go.  This raised a storm of controversy, but Truman in addressing the situation described it as quoted above.

Truman, MacArthur, and the Korean War  

The Korean War had broken out when forces of Communist North Korea invaded the Republic of South Korea on June 25, 1950. Truman immediately put U.S. forces into the fray to stave off this naked communist aggression. The U.S. forces backing the South Koreans were under the command of General Douglas MacArthur. Mac Arthur had been the military leader who had lead the U.S. in our victory over Japan during World War II and was considered a military genius. The
North Koreans had pushed far south enough that they very nearly had taken the entire peninsula. But with MacArthur's brilliant landings at Inchon (Sept. 14 - 19, 1950) the invaders had been pushed way back into their own territory, and by 1951, they had been pushed to the very border of communist China. Truman was concerned about the Chinese getting into the war. But even after MacArthur met with him on Wake Island (Oct. 15, 1950) and assured him that this would not happen - it did happen with hundreds of thousands of Chinese troops attacking in November and December of 1950 (above).

Truman and Mac Disagree

There were real differences between MacArthur and the Truman administration over policy.  One was that MacArthur thought that North Korea was not totally a satellite of Russia, but a country  with it's own policies and that therefore expanding the war with China would not mean starting up World War III with the Russians.  There was also MacArthur's insistence on using Nationalist Chinese troops from Taiwan in the fight, and MacArthur's desire to bomb the Chinese inside China itself. These were both points on which Truman firmly refused to agree, as he was trying to contain the war in Korea itself. On March 20 a letter from MacArthur to a congressman which was critical of Truman was made public. In it the general said; "...if we lose the war to communism in Asia the fall of Europe is inevitable; win it and Europe most probably would avoid war and yet preserve freedom. As you pointed out, we must win. There is no substitute for victory." 

The Decision is Made 

Clearly and now quite publicly Truman and MacArthur were not on the same page. So on April 6, Truman began meeting with his top advisers on what to do about the situation. On April 8 the Joint Chiefs of staff met with George Marshall and expressed concern: "if MacArthur were not relieved, a large segment of our people would charge that civil authorities no longer controlled the military." The Joint Chiefs all agreed that MacArthur had to be relieved (although they later told congress that they had not specifically recommended it). And on this date in 1951, Truman issued the following order to MacArthur (above):

"I deeply regret that it becomes my duty as President and Commander-in-Chief of the United States military forces to replace you as Supreme Commander, Allied Powers; Commander-in-Chief, United Nations Command; Commander-in-Chief, Far East; and Commanding General, U.S. Army, Far East."

Truman took tremendous political heat for this decision. Americans were quite stunned by this decision to cashier the great victorious general from World War II. But Truman withstood the firestorm of criticism. He no longer had any public disagreements with his Korea policy. He was much later quoted as having said in the early 1960's:

" I fired him because he wouldn't respect the authority of the President. I didn't fire him because he was a dumb son of a bitch, although he was, but that's not against the law for generals. If it was, half to three-quarters of them would be in jail."

Sources =

Saturday, March 26, 2016

MARCH 26 = Egypt, Israel Sign Peace Treaty

On today's date, March 26 in 1979 Egypt and Israel signed a peace treaty ending over thirty years of unremitting hostility and warfare between those two nations.  The treaty was the first ever between an Arab state and the Jewish state - each state extending full diplomatic relations with the other. And there has been nothing like it since. While Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994, the whole problem of how to recognize the Palestinian people remains as difficult now as it ever was.  But still it is worth remembering that time when peace in that part of the world seemed to be real possibility.

Sadat Visits Israel and Things Change

Things really changed in November of 1977 when Egyptian President Anwar Sadat (right) made a state visit to Jerusalem, and spoke before a
session of Israel's parliament, the Knesset. It had been a huge surprise for the world when Sadat announced he was going to do this. He had spoken of the idea, and on Nov. 16 of 1977, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin invited him to Jerusalem.  Sadat was determined to go through with the idea, despite intense criticism in the Arab world: "'I intend to go to the Israelis' den to tell them the truth,' Sadat told a group of visiting U.S. congressmen. 'I consider this trip as a sacred duty and this vicious circle we are turning around in . . . has to be broken.'" So in a fast moving chain of events the Egyptian president was in Jerusalem a few days later on Nov. 19.

Eventually Sadat and Begin Meet at Camp David

Still it took many months of negotiation between the two leaders to make it happen.  United States President Jimmy Carter threw himself into the process time and again to keep the momentum for peace going. He invited the two leaders to the Presidential retreat at Camp David,
Maryland for intense secret negotiations on a framework to address the many outstanding issues between the two governments in September of 1978. Due in large part to President Carter's personal commitment to the process, the negotiations which frequently seemed on the point of demise were successful, resulting in the Camp David Accords which the two men signed on September 17, 1978 (above).  This agreement led directly to the final Peace Treaty which was signed on today's date.

Israel and Egypt End Their 30 Year War

"Israel and Egypt formally ended a generation of warfare Monday in a solemn ceremony beneath the winter-striped, age-gnarled trees on the north lawn of the White House." went the front page article of the Cincinnati Enquirer the next morning by Warren D. Wheat beneath a headline reading: "Hope, Hostility Surround Signing Of Treaty"  The article continued, emphasizing the risks the two men were taking; "Carillons chimed softly in the background in mystic contrast to shouts of protest from angry Arab students corralled by police in Lafayette Park across Pennsylvania Avenue. A bright, early spring sun provided a warm relief from a chill March wind blowing in from the northeast."
This very colorful account was intersper- sed with reports  of angry reaction to what was viewed in much of the Arab world as a sell-out by Sadat to the ultimate mortal enemy, Israel. Reports from Beirut, Cairo, Tel Aviv, and elsewhere detailing the violent reaction to this treaty punctuated the account of the Treaty ceremony itself.  Clearly those who would move so boldly to make this peace treaty work faced violent opposition.

"Peace has come..."

The words of President Carter emphasized this danger, and the strength of those willing to take such bold risk as these two men were taking to counter the anger of those who opposed them: "Peace has come... Let those who would shatter peace, who would callously spill blood, be aware that we three and all others who may join us will vigorously wage peace." These words sound highly idealistic to us now with so much of the violence that has come since. They are indeed idealistic. But the treaty's main points of normalization of relations between Egypt and Israel, and Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula were indeed kept. And the two countries remain at peace. But Anwar Sadat would be assassinated by fundamentalist Muslim army officers while reviewing a military parade on Oct. 6, 1981.  And the peace process which the three leaders tried to begin has long since
become hopelessly bogged down.  But I felt that it was worth a few minutes of our time to remember this moment when everything seemed possible.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

MARCH 3 = Bizet's Opera "Carmen" Premieres

"dull and obscure ... the ear grows weary of waiting for the cadence that never comes."

- Léon Escudier in L'Art Musical

On today's date in 1875, Georges Bizet's brilliant opera "Carmen" premiered in Paris.  And the above comment by Escudier is just one of the barbs that were thrown at the work. It was deemed to be much too risque' and totally inappropriate for public consumption with its tails of love, seduction, and murder. Its main star performer was accused of an immoral performance. Unfortunately, the composer would die only a short time after this raucous premiere. Today of course, Carmen is looked on as one of the most popular Operas ever written and is the source of some very familiar tunes.

Bizet is Commissioned to Compose "Carmen"

 Born in 1838, Georges Bizet (below) was an up and coming young composer when in 1872, he was commissioned to write a three-act opera based on a short novel called "Carmen" by the writer Prosper Mérimée’. He began the music in 1873, but the management of the 
Opéra-Comique was worried that this story was too salacious for their wholesome venue with the head of the that theater pressuring Bizet for re-writes, out of fear for the financial wreck that might occur if the opera failed. Because of this. the work on Carmen was put on hold. Bizet worked instead on a work he hoped to produce at Opéra, but this work was halted when the Opéra burned to the ground in October of 1873. Then in 1874, one of the members of the Opéra-Comique who opposed the "risque'" content of Carmen resigned, opening the path for Bizet to finish his work on Carmen.  This he happilly did, and Carmen was completed that summer.

The Lurid Plot of Carmen

The controversy that arose from Carmen's premiere all came from its plot, which was taken from Mérimée's 1845 book.  In Bizet’s operatic version, Carmen is a beautiful and free-spirited young gypsy girl who works at a cigarette factory in Seville, Spain, wherein she arouses the notice and affections of a corporal in the Army named Don José. Although he is already engaged to marry the sweet, guileless country girl Micaëla, Don José is of course seduced by the the lovely and exotic
Carmen in Act I.  In Act II, he helps her her escape from the police. In Act III Don Jose' deserts from the army and gets himself mixed up in a smuggling plot over his lover. In Act IV (left), Carmen spurns Don José in favor of a handsome bullfighter named Escamillo. This, of course brings about a fit of jealous rage in the throws of which Don José fatally stabs Carmen outside the bullring in Seville. The opera contains some of the most popular tunes of operatic history, such as the "Habanera" and the "Toreador Song", so it was not without melody and brilliant orchestration. But that plot... the first three acts were not so bad for audiences of the day, but this last bit involving desertion and murder were considered by many to be entirely too much for a decent venue.

The Reaction to "Carmen"

This bloody story-line caused an uproar with the critics and within the management of the Opéra-Comique, for which more "family-friendly" plots had previously been the norm. The mezzo-soprano, Galli-Marié who played Carmen (below), had her performance denounced by one critic as "the very incarnation of vice". This was a truly tragic story
which was a tough matter for the audience. And moreover, the heroine's scandalous behavior was a major shock for many audience members. The opera did decent enough business, but it was not the huge winner which Bizet had been hoping for. Nevertheless many of Bizet's fellow composers admired "Carmen".  Tchaikowsky wrote "Carmen is a masterpiece in every sense of the word ... one of those rare creations which expresses the efforts of a whole musical epoch" And following the debut, Jules Massenet wrote to Bizet; "How happy you must be at this time—it's a great success!". Sadly however, Bizet himself did not live to see the success that "Carmen" would become. It was believed that Bizet was just unable to put the controversy behind himself, causing a depressed mood in the young composer which lead to his death. He died on June 3 of that very year at the young age of 36. Many felt that the stress of the whole "Carmen" experience had contributed to his early demise. This is something which can never be finally determined. But what can be said is that "Carmen" has since become one of the most beloved and popular operas ever written. And it is certainly too bad that Bizet didn't live to see this final result of his work.

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