1961 The Misfits released by United Artists The Misfits, a flawed but moving meditation on the vanishing spirit of western independence, is released by United Artists. The Misfits had all the right ingredients to become a truly great western. The director, John Huston, was one of the most talented in Hollywood. The screenwriter, Arthur Miller, was a celebrated playwright. The three stars—Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, and Montgomery Clift—were among America’s brightest. Yet when the film opened in early 1961, the reviews were mixed, and the public largely ignored the film. Audiences disliked the film in part because it failed to offer a clear-cut hero with whom they could identify. The Misfits tells the story of a four rootless losers trying to survive in the modern-day West. Monroe plays a frightened divorcee who falls in with an embittered rodeo rider (Clift) and an aging cowboy (Gable). These three improbable friends join a cynical cowboy to help him round up wild horses in the Nevada desert to sell for dog food. In some of the films most memorable and stunning scenes, the four misfits are shown careening across the Nevada desert in an old pickup truck. Clift and Clark are swinging their lassoes, as if they had returned to the long-passed era of the Open Range. Yet, the jarring juxtaposition of the classic cowboy in a beat-up truck rather than on a noble steed suggests the film’s real theme: the days of the Old West were over, and misfits could no longer find freedom and sanctuary there. For Miller, the four characters belonged to a vanished age, and they stood as symbols of the many others left behind by progress. Like another similarly dark film that came out the following year, Lonely are the Brave, the heroes of The Misfits are doomed to loneliness and spiritual death. They are unable to fit into the modern mechanized world. In the years to come, The Misfits would find a more appreciative audience, in part because the film was the swan song for Gable and Monroe, who both died shortly after it was released. The Misfits was a Western that was ahead of its time, a dark film that America found increasingly relevant during the turbulent years of the ’60s and ’70s. As overcrowding, pollution, war, and political scandals rocked the nation in these later decades, the film’s message of alienation and a longing for escape to the pre-modern world of the Old West found an ever more appreciative audience. 1938 Disney releases Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs “See for yourself what the genius of Walt Disney has created in his first full length feature production,” proclaimed the original trailer for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, released on this day in 1938. Based on the famous fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm, Snow White opened with the Wicked Queen asking her magic mirror the question “Who is the fairest one of all?” The mirror gives its fateful answer: Snow White, the queen’s young stepdaughter. Ordered by the queen to kill the young princess, a sympathetic woodsman instead urges Snow White to hide in the forest; there she encounters a host of friendly animals, who lead her to a cottage inhabited by the Seven Dwarfs: Sleepy, Dopey, Doc, Sneezy, Grumpy, Bashful and Happy. Eventually, in the classic happy ending viewers would come to expect as a Disney trademark, love conquers all as the dwarfs defeat the villainous queen and Snow White finds love with a handsome prince. Walt Disney’s decision to make Snow White, which was the first animated feature to be produced in English and in Technicolor, flew in the face of the popular wisdom at the time. Naysayers, including his wife Lillian, warned him that audiences, especially adults, wouldn’t sit through a feature-length cartoon fantasy about dwarfs. But Disney put his future on the line, borrowing most of the $1.5 million that he used to make the film. Snow White premiered in Hollywood on December 21, 1937, earning a standing ovation from the star-studded crowd. When it was released to the public the following February, the film quickly grossed $8 million, a staggering sum during the Great Depressionand the most made by any film up to that time. Critics were virtually unanimous in their admiration for Snow White. Charlie Chaplin, who attended the Hollywood premiere, told the Los Angeles Times that the film“even surpassed our high expectations. In Dwarf Dopey, Disney has created one of the greatest comedians of all time.” The movie’s innovative use of story, color, animation, sound, direction and background, among other elements, later inspired directors like Federico Fellini and Orson Welles. In fact, Welles’ Citizen Kane features an opening shot of a castle at night with one lighted window that is strikingly similar to the first shot of the Wicked Queen’s castle in Snow White. Disney won an honorary Academy Award for his pioneering achievement, while the music for the film, featuring Snow White’s famous ballad, “Some Day My Prince Will Come” and other songs by Frank Churchill, Larry Morey, Paul J. Smith and Leigh Harline, was also nominated for an Oscar. The studio re-released Snow White for the first time in1944, during World War II; thereafter, it was released repeatedly every decade or so, a pattern that became a tradition for Disney’s animated films. For its 50th anniversary in 1987, Snow White was restored, but cropped into a wide-screen format, a choice that irked some critics. Disney released a more complete digital restoration of the film in 1993. Its power continues to endure: In June 2008, more than 60 years after its U.S. release, the American Film Institute chose Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs as the No. 1 animated film of all time in its listing of “America’s 10 Greatest Films in 10 Classic Genres.” 1826 The Last of the Mohicans is published On this day in 1826, The Last of the Mohicans by James Fennimore Cooper is published. One of the earliest distinctive American novels, the book is the second of the five-novel series called the “Leather-stocking Tales.” Cooper was born in 1789 in New Jersey and moved the following year to the frontier in upstate New York, where his father founded frontier-town Coopersville. Cooper attended Yale but joined the Navy after he was expelled for a prank. When Cooper was about 20, his father died, and he became financially independent. Having drifted for a decade, Cooper began writing a novel after his wife challenged him to write something better than he was reading at the moment. His first novel, Precaution, modeled on Jane Austen, was not successful, but his second, The Spy, influenced by the popular writings of Sir Walter Scott, became a bestseller, making Cooper the first major American novelist. The story was set during the American Revolution and featured George Washington as a character. He continued to write about the American frontier in his third book, The Pioneer, which featured backcountry scout Natty Bumppo, known in this book as “Leather-stocking.” The character, representing goodness, purity, and simplicity, became tremendously popular, and reappeared, by popular demand, in five more novels, known collectively as the “Leather-stocking Tales.” The second book in the series, The Last of the Mohicans, is still widely read today. The five books span Bumppo’s life, from coming of age through approaching death.