November 15 - George Spelvin Day

Posted on November 15, 2019

Who is, or was, George Spelvin, and what did he do to merit his own day?

Would you believe me if I said that he doesn't exist, and never did exist, and THAT'S WHY he was given a special day?


Sometimes, in a theater (live-action) presentation, an actor plays two roles. A change of makeup and costume, a wig or new 'do, and voila! The audience who just saw an actor playing the role of Cordelia in Shakespeare's King Lear, for example, might not even recognize that same actor playing the role of the Fool.

Sometimes one actor playing two or more roles is intentional, kind of part of the plot, and it's meant to be noticed by the audience. For example, there is a tradition in stage presentations of Peter Pan for one actor to play both Mr. Darling (Wendy, John, and Michael's father) and Captain Hook!

Jason Isaacs as Mr. Darling and Captain Hook

But most of the time when actors are double-cast in plays, it is hoped that the audience will NOT notice. It's done to save money, or to save space backstage, or for some other practical reason. Since most plays have the cast listed in the program, sharp-eyed audience members are bound to notice the same actor's name associated with two different roles - and that would spoil the effect.

Enter George Spelvin, stage left. When a male actor played two roles in the play Karl the Peddler, premiering on this date in 1886, the fictitious name George Spelvin was used for the second  role - apparently to fool the audience.

In 1906 the playwright Winchell Smith used the same name, for the same reason, in one of his plays. That play succeeded, so Smith began to think of Spelvin as a sort of good luck charm. He ended up double casting actors and using the name George Spelvin in many other plays, as well...

...And then film makers used the fictitious name, and television producers as well. Sometimes the name George Spelvin was changed: George Spelvinsky, Georges Spelvinet, Giorgio Spelvino, Gregor Spelvanovich all have made appearances. Sometimes the two roles were played by a female actor: Georgette Spelvin and Georgina Spelvin have showed up in multiple productions. In at least one play, George Spelvin and George Spelvin, Jr., both appeared on the cast listing.

At this point, using George Spelvin or one of the George-Spelvin-like names is a bit of an in-joke for people in the entertainment biz and people who really love theatre and/or movies. And maybe now you and I will get the in-joke, too!

By the way, I read that George Spelvin once played in 9 different theaters, in 11 different roles, in cities as widespread as San Francisco, Boston, and New York - in ONE NIGHT! Wow! And over the course of three years, George Spelvin performed 20,000 times, in 210 different roles, again all over the U.S. Double wow! That would be hard to do for anyone other than a fictitious character!

November 14 - Hole Punch Day!

Posted on November 14, 2019

As long as there has been paper, there have been people needing to make holes in paper. Book binding and collecting papers in binders are major reasons for holes in paper - although of course there are all manner of decorative "holes" as well...

Above, Polish paper cutting.
Below, kirigami, or Japanese paper cutting.

Above, Jewish paper cutting.
Above, Chinese paper cutting.
Below, Mexican paper cutting (papel picado).

...For book binding, people have used awls and needles of various sorts, and for collecting books in binders, people either buy paper with holes already cut or use a tool to make holes...

We can use utility knives or scissors to cut holes in paper, and even pencils and pens can be used in a pinch. But the neatest, most even holes are made with a hole punch. And it's easiest if we have a hole punch that easily punches the right number and spacing of holes to fit our binder.

That's where today's historical anniversary comes in:

On this date in 1886, entrepreneur and inventor Friedrich Soennecken filed a patent for a two-hole punch in Germany. Soennecken also invented two-ring binders, an ink container that is more stable than earlier containers, "round writing" (which is basically the style of script we use now), and more...

Around the world, either two-hole or four-hole binders are most common; in the U.S., Mexico, and the Philippines, three-hole binders are used most. Of course there are also specialty hole punches used to prepare paper for comb binding and coil binding. 

November 13 - 150th of Women Who Worked for Women's Rights

Posted on November 13, 2019

Today is the 150th birthday of two women who were born in 1869:

Helene Stöcker, born in Wuppertal, Germany - an author, feminist, activist, and pacifist...

and Ariadna Tyrkova-Williams, born in Saint Petersburg, Russia - a journalist, feminist, activist, and politician...

You might note that, aside from these two women sharing the same birthday and birth year, they were also both feminists, activists, and writers. Another thing they had in common: they both died in the United States.

Helene Stöcker worked hard on everything from legalizing abortion to rights for lesbians, but when World War I broke out, she turned her attention to promoting peace. She helped start an organization by the name Paco, which is "peace" in the artificial language Esperanto. When Nazis came to power in Germany, Stöcker fled to Switzerland and then to England; she was in Sweden when the Nazis invaded Norway, so she took the Trans-Siberian Railway to Japan (! of all nations), and she finally ended up in the U.S. She lived in New York City until her death at age 73.

Stöcker was honored on this date in 2017, pictured in green
against a background of modern feminists and LGBTQ activists.
She was a woman ahead of her time - and a woman who pushed
society in the right direction!

Ariadna Tyrkova-Williams worked on women's rights, including the right to vote. Her husband, Harold Williams, was from New Zealand, which was a British colony, so when she decided to leave Russia, a year after the Bolshevik Revolution, she went to Britain. After her husband's death, Tyrkova-Williams immigrated to the U.S. and lived in Washington, D.C., until her death at age 92.