The 1900s Arts and Entertainment: Headline Makers
The 1900s Arts and Entertainment: Headline MakersTheodore Dreiser
Edwin Stanton Porter
Theodore Dreiser (1871–1945) Born into a large family troubled by poverty, writer Theodore Dreiser was shaped by his bleak childhood to adopt a naturalistic view of the world. Dreiser considered humans to be creatures plagued by blind forces and their own passions in an amoral, uncaring universe. He translated this attitude into realistic fiction with his first novel Sister Carrie (1900), which many considered scandalous and unfit for the reading public. For much of his career Dreiser faced censorship, condemnation, and controversy. Dreiser's most impressive novels include The Titan (1914), The "Genius" (1915), and An American Tragedy (1925), which is considered to be his masterpiece.
Isadora Duncan (1878–1927) Isadora Duncan revolutionized American modern dance with her spontaneous movements and open sensuality. Duncan's dance came to symbolize liberation from the stagnant traditions of European culture. While she was praised for her innovation, many Americans considered her suggestive style obscene. Duncan spent much of her life in Europe and the Soviet Union as an expatriate (one who lives somewhere other than one's native country). Duncan became involved in radical politics and saw her liberated dance moves as mirroring the revolutionaries' liberation from outmoded political systems.
Robert Henri (1865–1929) Painter Robert Henri led a revolt in American modern art circles when he and a group of like-minded artists, referred to as "The Eight," complained that American art should be free from European domination. Henri believed that art should be accessible to all Americans, not only to the experts. One of his most lasting contributions was to advocate the idea that urban landscapes were a subject worthy of serious art. While many complained that Henri's work had an element of coarseness, others viewed it as a counterpart to the social realism movement in American literature. At his death, Henri was hailed as a great influence on modern American art.
Scott Joplin (1868–1917) Scott Joplin was the foremost pianist and composer of ragtime, which was a lively and danceable form of music known for its "ragged" rhythm. The son of a former slave, Joplin was drawn to the African American musical style and produced some of its greatest compositions. His "Maple Leaf Rag" (1899) is one of the most famous American tunes. Ragtime allowed for a certain amount of improvisation and served as an important foundation for the evolving art of jazz music. Joplin wanted to be recognized not just as a popular songwriter but also as a composer of artistic merit. He was widely hailed for the ragtime opera Treemonisha (1911).
Jack London (1876–1916) Born into poverty, writer Jack London left school at age fourteen in search of a life of adventure. He displayed an early love for the sea and worked as both an oyster pirate and a member of the California Fish Patrol. London eventually became a writer and based many of his stories on his adventures and nature. He introduced a masculinized style to American fiction, emphasizing a fascination with strength, violence, and the primitive. His most popular works include White Fang (1906) and Call of the Wild (1903).
Edwin Stanton Porter (1869–1941) Director and filmmaker Edwin Porter was one of the most important technical innovators in early American cinema. In 1898, Porter's work resulted in steadier and brighter film projection. As an employee of Thomas Edison, Porter was placed in charge of all the Edison Company's film projects. He expanded the boundaries of cinema by experimenting with split screens, double exposures, and special effects. In 1903, Porter produced several landmark films. The Life of a Fireman (1903) was one of the first films to have a plot that extended beyond one scene and the first to be edited in the cutting room. Porter's The Great Train Robbery (1903) is considered to be America's first Western movie.
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Edith Wharton (1862–1937) Born into a distinguished family, novelist Edith Wharton was raised in New York's high society. Her writings often chronicled the individual's conflict with the constraints of social convention. Her two most famous novels, Ethan Frome (1911) and The Age of Innocence (1920), examined the lives of individuals who are crushed by conformist attitudes. In 1920, she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for the latter work. Wharton spent much of her adulthood as a journalist in Europe. By the time of her death she was consistently named one of the "greatest women in America."