Freethought of the Day

Would you like to start your day on a freethought note? Freethought of the Day is a daily freethought calendar brought to you courtesy of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, highlighting birthdates, quotes, and other historic tidbits.

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There are 2 entries for this date: Burt Lancaster and Annie Laurie Gaylor
Burt Lancaster

Burt Lancaster

On this date in 1913, Burton Stephen Lancaster was born in New York City into an Irish Protestant family. He was one of five children and grew up in a tough neighborhood. Always intensely physical, he was given an athletic scholarship to attend New York University, where he played basketball and baseball and participated in boxing, track and gymnastics.

He dropped out of college after two years to form an acrobatic team with his boyhood friend Nick Cravat. The act of Lang and Cravat traveled and performed with several circuses, including the Ringling and Barnum troupes, from 1932-39. In 1945, at age 32, he was "discovered" while on furlough. A theatrical producer's assistant, upon seeing the tall, muscular Lancaster, asked him to try out for a role in a play called "The Sound of Hunting."

Lancaster starred with Ava Gardner in his first film, "The Killers" (1946), based on a short story by Ernest Hemingway, which was the beginning of a long career that lasted until 1989. He appeared in nearly 80 films. Due to his physical prowess, he performed his own stunts, much to the chagrin of his producers, in that it caused him to become a high insurance risk. He was tough physically and in his religious, ethical and political stances and was willing to risk money and status to stand up for his beliefs.

In 1947 he was nearly blacklisted after signing a letter deploring the Red-baiting witch hunts in Hollywood. The FBI kept a file detailing his activities. An avowed atheist, he turned down the role of Ben-Hur but took on the role of a corrupt evangelist in "Elmer Gantry" (1960) because he wanted to make an anti-Billy Graham statement. He won the Best Actor Oscar for his performance as the oily preacher.

Lancaster participated in Martin Luther King's March on Washington in 1963, actively campaigned for George McGovern in the 1972 presidential election and was one of 575 people named on President Nixon's 1973 "Enemies List." He publicly associated himself with AIDS research in 1985. In 1988, in response to George H.W. Bush's comment deriding presidential opponent Michael Dukakis as a "card-carrying member of the ACLU," Lancaster was featured in a TV ad "confessing" that he, too, carried an ACLU card.

He was married three times. His first two marriages, to June Ernst from 1935-46 and Norma Anderson from 1946-69, ended in divorce. His third, to Susan Martin, was from September 1990 until his death in 1994 of a heart attack at age 80. All five of his children were with Anderson.

“The Ten Commandments, he said, were fine — but not for him.”

—Kate Buford, "Burt Lancaster: An American Life" (2000)

Compiled by Jane Esbensen

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Annie Laurie Gaylor

Annie Laurie Gaylor

On this date in 1955, Freedom From Religion Foundation co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor was born in Madison, Wisconsin, along with her twin, Ian Stuart Gaylor. With her mother Anne Gaylor, she co-founded FFRF in 1976 as a college student. Her 1977 complaint halted invocations and prayers at University of Wisconsin-Madison graduation ceremonies, ending a 122-year abuse. She earned a journalism degree from UW-Madison in 1980.

Gaylor's book documenting bible sexism, Woe to the Women: The Bible Tells Me So, first issued in 1981, was reissued in a revised and updated form in 2004. In it Gaylor wrote: “The only true shield standing between women and the bible, that handbook for the subjugation of women, is a secular government. U.S. citizens must wake up to the threat of an encroaching theocracy, and shore up Thomas Jefferson's 'wall of separation between church and state.' ”

She edited and published The Feminist Connection, a regional monthly, from 1980-84, then became editor of Freethought Today, the Foundation's newspaper, in 1985. She wrote the first book exposing the clergy sexual abuse scandal, Betrayal of Trust: Clergy Abuse of Children (1988), and is editor of the first anthology of women freethinkers, Women Without Superstition: No Gods – No Masters (1997). She is married to Dan Barker, FFRF co-president, and they have one daughter.

"The only life that ought to concern any of us is leaving our planet and our descendants a secure and pleasant future."

—Gaylor, quoted in Madison Magazine (2007)

Compiled by Bill Dunn; photo by Chris Line

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