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Great Babies of History

Slide 1: Introduction - Great Babies of History

In Babies, the four infants (Ponijao, Bayarjargal, Mari, and Hattie) ascend into the ranks of famous babies, a group that, as it turns out, is fairly restricted. Sure everyone loves babies, but by definition babies haven’t been around long to do very much that will get them noticed. Nevertheless certain babies have been so memorable that they have become essential elements of our cultural fabric. The following is a nursery of babies that made a difference at a very young age.

Slide 2: The Child of God - The Baby Jesus

There is really nothing to say except that he may be the most represented baby of all time.

Slide 3: The Children of Empire - Romulus and Remus

According to myth, the great Roman Empire started with a pair of tiny baby twins––Romulus and Remus. How and why they founded Rome is a long story, which ironically begins and ends with fraternal discord. The twin’s grandfather, Numitor, a descendent of Trojan royalty, is overthrown by his brother, who, fearing future competition from possible descendents, also condemns Numitor’s daughters to chastity. Unfortunately Rhea Silvia is seduced by the god Mars, giving birth to twin boys. Before the evil uncle can put the mother and sons to death, a sympathetic servant saves the boys by sending them down the river Tiber, where, many miles downstream, they are discovered by a she-wolf who nurses them into childhood. When the two brothers grow up, they fight over the placement of a new city. Romulus kills his brother and names the new city Rome, after himself.

Slide 4: Child of Hope - Keith Haring's Radiant Baby

Graffiti artist Keith Haring created the “Radiant Baby” in 1980, and soon the image became an icon of his work and of his worldview. Indeed, it soon became his calling card. When people approached him working on outdoor mural, Harding would give them a button of the radiant baby to wear. Soon the baby was making cameos in all of his Haring’s illustrations, be they for nuclear posters, Christmas cards, or even baby announcements. Although Haring consistently refused to define this icon, he mentioned in a 1985 interview, “Babies represent the possibility of the future, the understanding of perfection, how perfect we could be. There is nothing negative about a baby. Ever.”

Slide 5: Child of Commerce - The Gerber Baby

In 1928, the Freemont Canning Company decided they wanted a happy child to advertise their new line of baby food. Their marketing department initiated a countrywide search for baby pictures. Dorothy Hope Smith, a Boston illustrator, sent in an unfinished charcoal drawing of Ann Turner, a five-month-old infant she knew. If chosen, she expected that the company would request her to finish the drawing. But the executives were so taken with the simplicity of Smith’s drawing, that they didn’t want her to do anything to it. Soon the image went beyond being an advertising image and became the logo for Gerber baby products––as well as the source of many urban myths, including the popular belief that the model was actually Humphrey Bogart. 

Slide 6: Child of Legend - Hercules

Even as a baby, Hercules demonstrated that he was going to be someone special. The illegitimate son born of an affair between god Zeus and a mortal woman, Hercules was never on good terms with Hera, Zeus’ wife. To punish her philandering husband, Hera sent two poisonous snakes to visit the sleeping baby. But in the morning Hercules was found in his crib, gurgling baby talk and holding a strangled serpent in each hand.

Slide 7: Child of Fantasy - Mowgli

When Mowgli, the boy hero of Rudyard Kipling’s 1894 The Jungle Book, first appeared in Kipling’s short story “In the Rukh,” he was a young man. Nearly a century later, when Walt Disney rediscovered him for the animated musical adaptation, Mowgli was turned into a baby. Before becoming the playful boy of the jungle, he was just a baby adrift on a river that ran into the heart of the jungle.

Slide 8: Child of Power - Bronzino’s Portrait of Giovanni de' Medici

Long before baby photos became de rigeur for new parents, the rich and the famous hired court painters to immortalize their little ones. Renaissance power family the Medicis went among the courtly to put their children in paintings. In 1549, the celebrated portrait painter Bronzino captured the innocence of Giovanni de’ Medici, before he grew up to become the Bishop of Pisa—although considering the Medici reputation, it’s unclear whether the little boy is caressing the bird or crushing it to death.

Slide 9: Child of Racism - Tar baby

The Tar-baby was born in Joel Chandler Harris’ 19th century tales of Uncle Remus, who describes how Br’er Fox created the critter to ensnare Br’er Rabbit: “Brer Fox went ter wuk en got 'imsome tar, en mix it wid some turkentime, en fix up a contrapshun w'at he call a Tar-Baby.” He laid the “baby” by the road hoping Br’er Rabbit would get stuck when he picked it up. In 1946, when Walt Disney decided to adapt Harris’ stories into their animated epic Song of the South, Tar-Baby became a point of controversy, since the term was also used as racial slur. Years later, the novelist Toni Morrison tried to redeem the poor thing, using it as the tile of a book: “Tar Baby is also a name, like 'nigger,' that white people call black children, black girls, as I recall…. At one time, a tar pit was a holy place, at least an important place, because tar was used to build things…. It held together things like Moses' little boat and the pyramids. For me, the tar baby came to mean the black woman who can hold things together."

Slide 10: Child of Cinema - The baby in Rescued from an Eagle Nest

In 1907, director J. Searle Dawley worked with his cameraman Edwin S. Porter to film Rescued from an Eagle Nest. Shot both in outdoor locations by Fort Lee, as well as in a studio, the film featured a lead performance by D. W. Griffith (who less than a year later would be on the other side of the camera directing.) Griffith plays a woodsman whose baby son is stolen by an eagle. The trick shot was accomplished by using a live baby and stuffed eagle hung by wires. The baby, Jinnie Frazer (the daughter of one the actors), soon became the go-to child for Edison’s studio whenever they needed an infant.

Slide 11: Child of Capitalism - Baby Herman

Robert Zemeckis’ toon-noir Who Framed Roger Rabbit pulls the curtain back on the exploitation of animated characters by the cartoon capitalist conspiracy. But every toon was a patsy to the studio’s shenanigans. On screen, like in the Maroon Studios cartoon “Somethin’ Cooking,” Baby Herman plays the adorable tyke who continually crawls into trouble. While the baby consistently escapes unscathed the same cannot be said for his guardian, Roger Rabbit. The cute baby was played in real-toon-life by Baby Herman, a cigar-chompin’, bouncing ball-busting actor who ain’t going to be pushed around, either in a baby carriage or by a studio bigwig.

Slide 12: Child of Comics - Swee'Pea

In a 1933 comic strip, Popeye (the sailor-man) finds a baby on his doorstep called Swee’Pea. (The little tyke doesn’t show up in Richard Fleischer’s animated cartoons till 1936). Popeye decides to adopt the poor waif––or “boy kid” as he refers to him––and christens him Scooner Seawell Georgia Washenting Christiffer Columbia Daniel Boom. Years later, they learn that their mysterious ward is actually the Crown Prince of Demonia.

Slide 13: Child of Crime - The Lindbergh baby

During the first part of 1932, undoubtedly one of the most famous babies in the United States was Charles A. Lindbergh, Jr. This was not from anything the son of the famed aviator had done, but rather because on March 1, 1932, the 20-month-old infant was kidnapped from Lindbergh’s New Jersey estate. For months, the crime was front page news, even making the cover of Time Magazine. Even after the child’s corpse was found on May 12, 1932, buried in the ground not from the family’s home, the crime continued to haunt the American psyche. Thirty months after the kidnapping, the FBI arrested Bruno Richard Hauptmann, who was then convicted and executed for the crime––even though questions about his innocence persisted. During that time, the story never strayed far from the front page, making it, as humorous H. L. Mencken quipped, “the biggest story since the resurrection.”

Slide 14: Child of Horror - The It's Alive baby

The 1977 ad for exploitation auteur Larry Cohen’s horror classic contained the memorable tagline: "There is only one thing wrong with the Davis baby. It's alive."  Not unlike Rosemary’s naughty child, the little darling in It’s Alive is more beast than baby. Born a violent mutant that chews itself out of the womb, the frightened killing machine wreaks death and destruction wherever it crawls. Cohen was quick to emphasize that as a filmmaker he was less interested in the monstrosity he gave birth to as in “so called normal people acting in an aberrant manner because of an unreal situation they find themselves in.” Babies do that to people.

Slide 15: Child of Persistence - Baby Huey

While Baby Huey is best known as a star of Paramount Pictures’ Famous Studios cartoons, he first appeared in a Casper the Friendly Ghost comic book. But after his television debut in the 1950 toon “Quack a Doodle Doo,” the oversized duckling became a comic fixture, appearing in many cartoons and even getting his own comic book, and many years later a direct-to-video feature film. Yet despite so many appearances, his storyline stayed pretty much the same. After being humiliated by other kids because of his awkward size, he returns to save them by using that same awkward size. As an unexpected hero, Huey proved an inspiration for people like U.S. President Bill Clinton. In 1993, Clinton remarked, "I'm a lot like Baby Huey. I'm fat. I'm ugly. But if you push me down, I keep coming back."

Slide 16: Children of Television - Rugrats

In 1991, four babies emerged on the world stage with the power to possibly rival the fab four from decades before. The Pickles’ children (Tommy, Chuckie, Phil and Lil) were created for Nickelodeon by Arlene Klasky, Gábor Csupó, and Paul Germain. During the show’s life of 13 years on television, 3 feature films, several direct to video movies, a host of traveling musical shows and a video game, the babies, strangely enough, never grew up.

Slide 17: Child of the Coen brothers - Junior from Raising Arizona

After creating a splash with their ultra low-budget thriller Blood Simple, the Coen brothers turned their attention to screwball comedy with Raising Arizona, a mixed-up saga of a couple (Holly Hunter and Nicolas Cage) so desperate to have a baby that they kidnap someone else’s. Not only had the filmmaking duo switched genre, but they took on one of filmmakers big taboos––working with babies. At an open casting call in Scottsdale, AZ, over 400 babies were seen. Many walked when they needed to crawl; some cried when Mommy left; some threw little fits. Only 8-month T.J. Kuhn stood out as the baby with the right stuff. But picking the right baby didn’t make it any easier, as Joel Coen later explained: “A baby is somewhere between an actor and a prop…You can’t talk to it and tell it what you want to do. And you can’t just put it someplace in a shot and reliably predict it will stay there.”

Slide 18: Child of Satan - Rosemary's Baby

While never seen, the titled child of Roman Polanski’s horror classic is partially described in the film. At the end of the film, when Rosemary discovers that the baby she was told died at birth is still alive, she is invited to gaze upon her child. Upon peering into the bassinet, Rosemary screams, and the ensuring dialogue hints at the infant’s appearance.

Rosemary Woodhouse: What have you done to him? What have you done to his eyes, you maniacs!
Roman Castevet: He has his father's eyes.
Rosemary Woodhouse: What do you mean? Guy's eyes are normal!


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