May 27

There are 4 entries for this date: Paul Bettany Isadora Duncan Harlan Ellison Adam Carolla

    Isadora Duncan

    Isadora Duncan

    On this date in 1878, Isadora Duncan was born in San Francisco, the youngest of four children. Her mother, Dora Gray Duncan, a pianist and music teacher, was devout, having been raised in an Irish Catholic family. Dora lost her faith when her marriage disintegrated. Faced with four children to raise alone, “her faith in the Catholic religion revolted violently to definite atheism, and she became a follower of Robert Ingersoll, whose works she used to read to us,” Duncan recalled in her autobiography.

    When she was 5, her teacher told the class that Santa Claus had provided candies and cakes as a special treat. When Duncan solemnly challenged the assertion, she was made to leave the class. She made a little speech (see quote below), which she called “the first of my famous speeches.” Her mother comforted her by saying, “There is no Santa Claus and there is no God, only your own spirit to help you.”

    Duncan was dancing in public by age 6, encouraged by her mother to pursue her precocious talent. Considered the “mother of modern dance,” she pioneered interpretative dance, shedding shoes to dance barefoot, draping herself in loose Greek robes. She found fame and success in Europe and was the most famous dancer of her era.

    Never conventional, Duncan gave birth to two “love children” by different fathers, neither of whom she married. Her children tragically drowned in 1913 in an accident in France. She died in Nice in another tragic accident, when her free-flowing scarf got caught in the spoked wheels of a French-made Amilcar convertible in which she was a passenger. (D. 1927)

    PHOTO: Duncan c. 1906-12.

    “I don’t believe lies!”

    —Duncan, age 5, defying a teacher who insisted Santa Claus was real, "Isadora Duncan: My Life" (1927)

    Harlan Ellison

    Harlan Ellison

    On this date in 1934, Harlan Ellison was born in Cleveland. A prolific writer, Ellison penned 75 books and over 1,700 short stories, articles, columns and screenplays. His books and collections of short stories include I Have No Mouth & I Must Scream (1967), Approaching Oblivion (1974), Deathbird Stories (1975) and Strange Wine (1978). He worked as creative consultant for “The Twilight Zone” (1985–86) and as a conceptual consultant for “Babylon 5” (1994–99).

    Ellison wrote scripts for such well-known shows as “Star Trek” — including the famous episode, “The City on the Edge of Forever” (1966) — and “The Twilight Zone.” He won numerous awards for his work, including eight Hugo Awards from 1966-86; the P.E.N. International Silver Pen in 1982 for An Edge in My Voice (1985), which was serialized in L.A. Weekly; and the Georges Melies Fantasy Film Award for Outstanding Cinematic Achievement in Science Fiction Television in 1972 and 1973.

    Ellison was raised Jewish, but became critical of religion. “The people who bomb churches and synagogues, they quote the bible. The people who shoot doctors use the bible,” Harlan said during a 1997 episode of “Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher.”

    In the 2008 documentary “Harlan Ellison: Dreams With Sharp Teeth,” he said, “I find nothing more ridiculous and annoying than some guy who runs a kickoff back 105 yards from the end zone and drops to his knees and thanks God. Well, that’s foolish. God didn’t do it. He did it. Because if God did that for him, you mean God was against the other team? God is that mean-spirited that he has nothing better to do on Sunday afternoon than beat the crap out of a bunch of poor football players? I don’t believe in the universe being run by that kind of a God. I go with Mark Twain.”

    The New York Times noted in his obituary that Ellison was “ranked with eminent science fiction writers like Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov,” however Ellison prefered to call his genre of writing “speculative fiction, or simply fiction.” Ellison wrote what could be considered his own epitaph: “For a brief time I was here; and for a brief time I mattered.” (The Essential Ellison, 1987.) He died at age 84 and was survived by his fifth wife, Susan Toth. (D. 2018)

    PHOTO: Ellison at the L.A. Press Club in 1986; Pip R. Lagenta photo under CC 2.0.

    “I think [religion] is presumptuous and I think it is silly, because it makes you believe that you are less than what you can be. As long as you can blame everything on some unseen deity, you don’t ever have to be responsible for your own behavior.”

    —Ellison, “Harlan Ellison: Dreams With Sharp Teeth” (2008)
    Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor

    Adam Carolla

    Adam Carolla

    On this day in 1964, Adam Carolla was born in Los Angeles. He briefly attended community college before deciding to pursue various professions, including working as a contractor, carpenter and boxing trainer. After working with the improv group The Groundings, Carolla decided to become a full-time comedian. He co-hosted “The Man Show” (1999–2004) and “Crank Yankers” (2002–07) with Jimmy Kimmel, whom Carolla met when teaching Kimmel to box. He also co-hosted the radio show “Loveline” (1999–2005).

    In 2009 he started hosting “The Adam Carolla Show,” a free daily podcast on the ACE Broadcasting Network. A talk show, it was the most downloaded podcast in 2011. Carolla is also a published author. His comedic works include In Fifty Years We’ll All Be Chicks (2011) and Rich Man, Poor Man (2012). He married Lynette Paradise in 2002. They have two children.

    “I’m an atheist,” Carolla told Penn Jillette on Penn Radio in 2006. He told Jillette that he had never been religious and that the very idea of religion seemed bizarre to him. “Obviously, you could take any Christian and just have them born into fundamentalist Hasidism, and they would be walking around with the beard and the whole getup. If you weren’t indoctrinated into that early on, then it makes no sense.”

    “If you were not born into [religious] culture, it seems like the most outlandish thing in the world.”

    —Adam Carolla, Penn Radio interview (March 9, 2006)
    Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor; photo by Everett Collection / Shutterstock.com

    Paul Bettany

    Paul Bettany

    On this date in 1971, actor Paul Bettany was born in London to Anne (née Kettle) — a singer, teacher and stage manager — and Thane Bettany, a stage performer and drama teacher. “Bettany was himself raised as a Catholic, though his church attendance drifted after his confirmation. It was, he says, ‘incredibly’ strange to be back in churches while filming ‘The Da Vinci Code.’ [Because] now I only go to churches for funerals.” (The Guardian, May 11, 2006)

    When he was 16, his brother Matthew died at age 8 after falling on concrete from a roof. Bettany dropped out of school and earned money playing his guitar in the streets as a busker and working in a home for the elderly before enrolling at the Drama Centre London. Stage and screen acting roles followed.

    His parents divorced in 1993 and his father started a 20-year relationship with Andy Clark, who died in 2015. “The terrible thing for my father is that, in the end, he went back in the closet, which was awful to watch, really. And that really speaks to the power of his Catholicism, which sort of led him to a place of shame and inability to mourn his partner in a real way.” (People magazine, Jan. 15, 2021)

    Playing Geoffrey Chaucer opposite Heath Ledger in Hollywood’s 2001 adaptation of “A Knight’s Tale” won him plaudits, and he was cast in “A Beautiful Mind” that same year when he met and wooed Jennifer Connelly, who played mathematician John Nash’s wife. He and Connelly married on New Year’s Day 2003 and have a son Stellan (b. 2003) and daughter Agnes (b. 2011). She and Bettany also raised her son Kai (b. 1997) from her relationship with photographer David Dugan.

    He declined the role of George the VI in “The King’s Speech” that won Colin Firth an Oscar in 2010. The New Zealand Herald noted “a running theme” in his roles in a 2011 interview with Bettany. In “The Reckoning” (2004), he played a priest who flees after being found in flagrante delicto with a married woman. In “The De Vinci Code” (2006), he was cast as the murderous, albino Catholic monk Silas. He played the fallen archangel Michael in “Legion” (2010) and the title character in “Priest” (2011), in which he hunts vampires. “Unless Priest 2 happens, this is absolutely the last movie with any religious undertones I’ll ever do because it’s all I get asked about,” he said.

    He gained about 45 pounds to play Charles Darwin in “Creation” (2009). “It was no problem though. I just ate a lot of sandwiches,” Bettany said. Connelly played Darwin’s wife Emma, driven to distraction by the death of their daughter Anne in 1851 at age 10 after contracting scarlet fever and possibly tuberculosis.

    “When their child dies, he goes to science and she goes to religion. And the exact thing that he is working on [evolutionary theory] is potentially going to take her solace away,” Betanny said. “[R]eligion is sort of a function in the script, in that [Emma] is a fervent Christian and it’s her way of dealing with the loss of her daughter, which it is for a lot of people.” (The Guardian, Feb. 11, 2009)

    Connelly once joked that she was raised with a double dose of guilt, having an Irish Catholic father and a Jewish mother who was schooled at a yeshiva. “I wasn’t brought up with any religion at all,” she said. “At school and in my early 20s, I read every religious text I could get my hands on — Buddhist scriptures, Hindu texts, the Qur’an and the Bible. I wanted to feel like something made sense to me, that there was something sacred I could feel aligned with. Then I had Kai and thought this is something that is really concrete and it’s sort of a practice in itself, trying to raise him well.” (The Guardian, Dec. 8, 2008)

    Bettany co-starred with Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp in “The Tourist” (2010) and reprised his voice role as J.A.R.V.I.S. in 2010’s “Iron Man 2” and two sequels. He made his first onscreen appearance in a Marvel film in “Avengers: Age of Ultron” (2015), playing Vision in that and two sequels.

    He portrayed serial bomber Ted Kaczynski in the Discovery Channel’s “Manhunt: Unabomber” in 2017. He co-starred with Elizabeth Olsen in Marvel Comics’ TV miniseries “WandaVision” (2021), playing a new version of his Marvel Cinematic Universe character Vision. He played Andy Warhol in both the mostly panned Broadway production of “Collaboration” (2022) and its cinematic adaptation, unreleased as of this writing in early 2024.

    PHOTO: Bettany at the 2018 premiere of “Solo: A Star Wars Story” in Hollywood, Calif. Photo by Shutterstock/DFree.

    “I am an atheist. But I don’t think [‘Creation’ is] a film about atheism, I think it’s a film about a man who became at least agnostic, as I think he always called himself. … But for me, as an atheist, to have a viable alternative is incredibly important. The difficulty of looking at a system like natural selection if you have any sort of moral sense yourself, is almost what makes it beautiful.”

    —Interview, The Guardian (Feb. 11, 2009)
    Compiled by Bill Dunn

Freedom From Religion Foundation