Thursday, September 21, 2017

Born Today September 21: H. G. Wells


Herbert George Wells was born in Atley House in High St., Bromley, Kent, England in the U.K. on this date to a then shop keeper and professional cricketer father and domestic servant mother; he was the fourth and final child for the couple.  The family struggled with money.  In 1874, an accident left Wells with a broken leg and bedridden; his father began to bring him books from the local lending library to read to pass the time.  This inspired in him a desire to write.  Later that year he entered the private school Thomas Morley's Commercial Academy (a school founded in 1849).  Wells later remembered that the instruction was erratic and focused teaching copperplate handwriting and math courses of interest only to tradesmen.  He continued at the school until 1880, when he was basically forced to quit.  In 1877, his father fractured a thigh and was unable to continue his primary career as a professional sportsman.  The family then sought to send out the sons into active apprenticeship.  For 3 years Wells languished in an apprentice position with the Southsea Drapery Emporium.  Although the experience was a bleak one, it would inspire at least two of novels.   In 1879 things turned more toward Wells' interest, when his mother was able, through a relative, to secure for him at the National School and a pupil-teacher.  Unhappily, this did not last long and Wells had to return to apprenticeship work as a chemists assistant; this was not an area that interested him at all and the situation did not last long.  His mother, however, was given a position in the home of prominent family in Sussex that allowed room and board for family.  He availed himself of this, and was given access to the house's vast library, which he devoured eagerly.  In 1883, he persuaded his parents to release him from the life of apprenticeship and took an opportunity by Midhurst Grammar School to work there as a pupil-teacher (he had attended the school previously for a very short time).  He spent time there in self-study and teaching science and Latin.  This earned him the chance to study at what was then the Normal School of Science (now the Royal College of Science) under Thomas Henry Huxley.  He would go on to make a deep impact in the area of the societies of the sciences and public discourse (such as debating).  It would be several years before he kindled an active interest in writing, which came around 1886 or 1887.  He left the school in the year 1887 and soon moved to an area that would go on to inspire his novel War of the Worlds.  His earliest novels, which he called "scientific romances" rank amongst his most well known today.  Along with War Of, they include:  The Invisible Man, The Time Machine, the Island Of Dr. Moreau and  The First Men In The Moon.  He would go on to have enormous popularity and influence during his lifetime; with his writing being almost incidental to his greater ideas of social reform and notions of future innovations in the real world.  He was in his writing a sort of Da Vinci; and turned out to be quite accurate in many mechanical predictions that he made in the world of industrial invention (he was off by some estimates--like air travel--in time frame, but he, nonetheless, was right about a great number of time lines).  Wells, of course, lived long enough to see so many of these technological milestones take place.  And not the least of these technological wonders was the invention of the projected moving picture.  Indeed the first film to be rendered from Wells' work came when he was 36 years of age, and remains one the most famous of early films:  Méliès A Trip To The Moon, which also drew most heavily from the work of Jules Verne. Made in 1902, the film was for it's time astonishingly long:  13 minutes.  His work wouldn't be used again until 1908 (not credited), and it would not be until 1909 that a film fully utilizing his work was made--this time the film took on his work exclusively.  Produced in France by Pathé Ferés, Le voleur invisible was based on the novel The Invisible Man.  One of the directors was Segundo de Chomon, who, a year earlier had undertaken a remake of Mélies film in An Excursion To The Moon.  In all, 13 films were produced from his work during the silent era.  Three of these, a comedic trilogy, starred one Elsa Lanchester who would go on to fame as the bride in James' Whale's Bride of Frankenstein (in which she also played it's writer Mary Shelley...speaking of literature).  [See The TonicDaydreams, and Blue Bottles.]  The first sound film made from his work is a famous pre-code horror film based on The Island Of Dr. Moreau, in Island Of Lost Souls (1932) which starred Charles Laughton.  Of course, the next film made from his work is as famous as as any film from the era gets; Universal's James Whale directed The Invisible Man from 1933 stars Claude Rains as the mad scientist and his invention of monocane--the invisibility drug.  The film sparked a franchise for Universal.  In fact, many horror films from the 1930's and 1940's used his work as source material. For example, the United Kingdom's Ealing studios gave us Dead of Night starring Redgrave brother Michael in 1945 the year before Wells' death.  While he did live well into the era of movies (!), he did not survive to see the growing influence on the small screen of television.  His work made it's television debut early in ABC's Actor's Studio in the 1948 episode The Inexperienced Ghost.  He work was famously used in the 1950's science fiction craze, most famously in the 1953 War Of The Worlds.  Rod Taylor was in a Wells film--The Time Machine (1960)--before he met birds in Hitchcock's film of 1963.  Two infamous films (each in their own way) have been made from The Island of Dr. Moreau.  And Stephen Spielberg filmed his version of War Of The Worlds in 2005 with Tom Cruise.  His work has even met Abbott and Costello.  The most recent aired or released use of his work came last year in the mini-series The Nightmare Worlds of H. G. Wells in the U.K.  There are three titles set for future release of his work.  One is an episode of an independent television series and the other two are major film remakes by Universal with no set time frame for production or release.  This is no way begins to cover his works produced for the radio--by far the most infamous was the 1938 Orson Welles produced War Of The Worlds broadcast that had US citizens believing that the planet was actually being invaded by aliens. Wells was himself interviewed by the same crew (Welles on Wells so to speak) two years later.  Wells made an appearance in one silent film as a celebrity guest in They Forgot To Read The Directions in 1924.  H. G. Wells, who had suffered a good deal of his last years with diabetes, died on the 13th of August in 1946, probably at his flat in London.  He was cremated at the famous Golder's Green and his ashes were scattered at sea near Old Harry Rocks in Dorset.  For more on his very complicated life history, please see Wikipedia below.

From Le voleur invisible (1909)

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