Flashback
A look back at this day in film history
December 07
November 12, 1943
Wallace Shawn born

While many know Wallace Shawn as the loveable (or loathsome), pudgy clown in films like Clueless or The Princess Bride, there is another more serious side to him. Wallace Shawn was born among New York’s smart set. As the son of longtime New Yorker editor William Shawn, Wally went to the best schools (Dalton, Putney, Harvard, Oxford) and was on first-name basis with America’s best and brightest. Shawn later wrote about his teachers and others treatment of him: “I didn’t’ realize why they were groveling at my feet, and it made me a very self-confident person until the age of forty, when I figured it out––when I had a crisis of confidence.” In his confidence, Shawn was a daring playwright. Much of his early theatrical works were verbally violent and sexually explicit.  His 1971 A Thought in Three Parts became the center of public controversy when it was threatened with censorship as obscenity in London. Later work, often allegorical, focused on government repression. While often dark and abstract, three of his plays––The Designator Mourner, Marie and Bruce and The Fever––have been adapted into films. Shawn has also long been in a voice in left-wing politics, writing regularly for The Nation and starting his own short-lived political journal. Yet despite such high-brow pursuits, for many Wallace Shawn will always be the querulous, high-pitched voice of Rex the Dinosaur in Toy Story.


More Flashbacks
December 7, 1960
Village of the Damned released

In the winter of 1960, a new vision of horror came to American cinemas from Britain. The Village of the Damned tells the story of a small English village in which all the women are mysteriously pregnant.

Read more »
December 7, 1949
Tom Waits For No Man

Thomas Alan Waits was born in Pomona, California, on this day, 59 years ago. The name Tom Waits is, of course, primarily associated with music: Waits is a distinctive, gravely-voiced singer-songwriter who has made classic albums like Rain Dogs and Blue Valentine and has been a force on the American music scene since the 1970s. Waits, though, with his rasping tones and rough-hewn features is also a casting director’s dream and has been involved in film almost as long as he has in music. Bizarrely, it was Sylvester Stallone who first put him on screen in his directorial debut, Paradise Alley, as a piano player called Mumbles, though Waits subsequently drew attention from somewhat more distinguished helmers. The first of these was Francis Ford Coppola, who cast Waits in four consecutive movies (One From the Heart, The Outsiders, Rumblefish and The Cotton Club) and also had Waits score One From the Heart, for which he received an Oscar nod. His other great relationship has been with director Jim Jarmusch, who also initiated Waits into his exclusive Sons of Lee Marvin club; Jarmusch first utilized Waits in Down by Law in 1986 and has since used his musical or thespian talents in Mystery Train, Night on Earth and Coffee and Cigarettes. Appealing to auteurs with an eye for idiosyncratic, Waits has also appeared twice in Terry Gilliam and Hector Babenco productions and had memorable roles in Robert Altman’s Short Cuts (opposite Lily Tomlin) and 2007’s Wristcutters: A Love Story.

Read more »