December 13

There are 3 entries for this date: Queen Silver John Davidson Christopher Plummer

    Queen Silver

    Queen Silver

    On this date in 1910, “girl philosopher” Queen Silver was born in Portland, Oregon, where her mother, Grace Verne Silver, 21, a Socialist lecturer, was stranded during a tour. She never met her father or revealed his name, calling it “classified information.” At 10 days old she took the first of many railway journeys, going with her mother to Los Angeles, where they settled. Starting in 1917 they and her stepfather became extras in motion pictures to supplement their income. Silver was taught at home and was expected at an early age to be independent, to pay her own board and even cook her own meals.

    She was reading Darwin at age 7, and at age 8 delivered a series of lectures in Los Angeles, an event noteworthy enough to be covered by the Los Angeles Record. At age 11, she publicly challenged William Jennings Bryan to a debate on evolution. Bryan declined. The Daily News in Inglewood carried a front-page article on June 29, 1925, reporting that “Inglewood’s famous girl philosopher, talker and writer” might attend the Scopes trial and pictured her holding a chimpanzee. She was unable to afford the trip but 1,000 of her pamphlets were distributed during the trial.

    She was notorious enough that Cecil B. DeMille modeled the title character of his 1928 movie “The Godless Girl” after her. One synopsis: “Two teenagers, one an atheist and the other a Christian, fall in love at a brutal reform school.”

    From 1923-34 she published “Queen Silver’s Magazine,” a 16-page periodical with a freethought angle and a national subscription. During the Depression, Silver took seasonal office work and, starting in 1936, became a junior typist clerk and withdrew for the most part from political involvement. Attending night school, she graduated from Los Angeles City College in the 1960s with an associate’s degree. She stayed in state civil service, working as a court reporter, and retired in 1972.

    She helped to found the Los Angeles group that later became Atheists United, serving on its board and lecturing occasionally. She was a member of many humanist organizations, including FFRF. Wendy McElroy, a friend and admirer, published the biography Queen Silver: The Godless Girl in 2000, two years after Silver’s death at age 87.

    “In America, the church controls the State and Capital controls both Church and State. Capital finances religion and god sanctifies capital. The workingman is victimized by both god and gold. One destroys his brain and the other plunders his body.”

    —From Silver's essay titled "God's Place in Capitalism" (1926)
    Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

    John Davidson

    John Davidson

    On this date in 1941, entertainer John Hamilton Davidson was born to two ordained Baptist ministers in Pittsburgh. After graduating from high school in White Plains, N.Y., he earned a B.A. in theater arts after first majoring in philosophy at Denison University in Granville, Ohio. 

    He got his start on Broadway in the 1964 musical “Foxy” and won a Theater World Award in 1965 for his role as “Curly” in “Oklahoma!” He landed roles in several Disney movies, which led to other Hollywood and television roles. He recorded 12 albums in the 1960s and ’70s, five of which reached the Billboard 200 album charts.

    He was a regular on “Hollywood Squares,” performed in Las Vegas, guest-hosted “The Tonight Show” 87 times and hosted a revival of “The $100,000 Pyramid” in 1991. He continued to perform theatrically and played The Wizard in 2013 in the touring Broadway musical “Wicked.” He’s since been entertaining in Branson, Mo., and elsewhere as a troubadour and storyteller. 

    He married singer Jackie Miller in 1969. They divorced in 1982 and have a son, John Jr., and daughter, Jennifer. He married singer Rhonda Rivera in 1983 and they have a daughter, Ashleigh. In a January 2020 piece in New Hampshire Magazine, he wrote about moving there and enjoying its “sense of freedom, individualism, self-reliance and, yes, healthy skepticism. Being a progressive, I of course came here in search of other progressive liberals, but I’ve also encountered open-minded conservatives who have been an inspiration.”

    Davidson in 2015 joined Openly Secular, a coalition of freethought groups started by the Center for Inquiry. He spoke at the Reason Rally in Washington, D.C., in 2016 and appeared in 2020 on FFRF’s “Freethought Matters” TV talk show about the harm Christianity has done in countries like Mexico, where he lived for a while: “I would see these poor, poor Mexican people come in and light a candle and give their last couple of pesos to the church, which has billions of dollars in Rome.”

    He said in a 2020 interview with Broadway World that he started questioning his faith in college: “My sophomore year I was a philosophy major and my first two courses were comparative religions of the world. You study all the religions of the world, everyone’s approach to what they think god is or that thing in the atmosphere, whatever. And the other course was logic one 0 four. And if you take logic and try to apply it to religion, it just doesn’t work! So that was the beginning of my journey towards atheism.” 

    Public domain photo: Davidson in 1973 on the set of “The Girl With Something Extra,” co-starring Sally Field.

    “I think we should all be doubting Thomases. I think it’s good to be skeptical and question everything. Question everything!”

    —Interview, Broadway World (May 8, 2020)
    Compiled by Bill Dunn

    Christopher Plummer

    Christopher Plummer

    On this date in 1929, Canadian actor Arthur Christopher Orme Plummer was born in Toronto, the only child of stockbroker John Orme Plummer and Isabella Mary Abbott, who worked as secretary to the dean of sciences at McGill University. His parents separated shortly around the time of his birth.

    Not until he was 17 did Plummer meet his father again, when he came to see him in a play. “Our paths would cross once or twice again in our lifetimes and then no more,” he wrote in his 2008 memoir “In Spite of Myself.” He grew up in Montreal with his mother — the granddaughter of a prime minister and a railroad president — and her extended family in what he called “a colony of fading social aristocracy.” The family attended a Church of England congregation.

    He started acting in high school and then apprenticed to the Montreal Repertory Theatre, as did William Shatner. After his Broadway debut in 1953, he appeared in his first hit opposite Julie Harris in Jean Anouilh’s “The Lark” (1955). He was nominated for his first Best Actor Tony in Elia Kazan’s production of Archibald MacLeish’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “J.B.”

    He won a Tony for the title role of “Cyrano,” a 1973 Broadway musical. His other Best Actor Tony was for “Barrymore” (1996). He won one Oscar, for Best Supporting Actor in 2012 for “Beginners,” also starring Ewan McGregor. In the bittersweet “Beginners,” Plummer played a man who comes out as gay after a long marriage and the death of his wife. At 82, he was the oldest person ever to win an Oscar in a competitive category until being supplanted by 83-year-old Anthony Hopkins in 2021.

    He had 217 acting credits for movies, television and videos in addition to his many stage performances. If there’s one role he’s known for, it’s likely as the Austrian naval officer Georg von Trapp opposite Julie Andrews in the 1965 musical “The Sound of Music.” It won two Golden Globes and five Oscars and became the third highest-grossing American film of all time, behind “Gone With the Wind” and “Star Wars.”

    In his 2008 memoir, he wrote that he avoided calling the film by name, referring to it instead as “the movie,” “S&M” or “The Sound of Mucus.” That assessment had softened by the time of its 50th-anniversary celebration in 2015: “I do respect it, even though I’ve been very naughty about it over the years,” he said. “I think it’s a marvelous family movie, and we need a family movie in these rough times.” (Newsweek, Feb. 5, 2021)

    He played Hamlet, Macbeth, Richard III, Mark Antony and other Shakespeare protagonists on prominent stages to consistent acclaim, according to an obituary. “But he also accepted roles in a fair share of clinkers, in which he made vivid sport of some hoary clichés — as Reverend Carlyle, a bigot hiding behind religiosity in ‘Skeletons’ (1997), for example, one of his more than 40 television movies.” (New York Times, Feb. 5, 2021)

    In a 2007 Broadway revival of “Inherit the Wind,” which was loosely based on the Scopes trial and ran for 100 performances, Plummer played a lawyer based on Clarence Darrow. “I think it’s more timely now, more universally timely,” Plummer said about religious fundamentalism and creationism in an interview. “Nobody’s learned anything at all.” In the 2005 Showtime movie “Our Fathers,” he played Boston Cardinal Bernard Law, “rewarded with a promotion” to the Vatican, noted Plummer, after it was proven Law covered up sexual abuse of children by clergy for years. (Playbill, March 16, 2007)

    Plummer married three times, first to actress Tammy Grimes (1956-60), with whom he had his only child, Amanda, who became an actress. He married journalist Patricia Lewis in 1962 and divorced in 1967. His final marriage, to actress Elaine Taylor, lasted from 1970 till his death at age 91 in Weston, Conn. D. 2021

    PHOTO: Plummer at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival; photo by GDC Graphics under CC 2.0

    “My sort of religion is one of romance. I think the arts are the best thing to hang on to. Arts and science. I can’t join the rest of the world in the religions because they have become so bigoted and so dangerous. I just don’t believe in them.”

    —Interview, The Guardian (May 7, 2011)
    Compiled by Bill Dunn

Freedom From Religion Foundation