The BRASH Hall Of Fame
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By Emmanuel Job October 16, 2008
If you've ever met that guy who describes himself as a "Renaissance man," then this is probably who he's thinking of. A non-Renaissance man would paint the most famous work of art in the world, the "Mona Lisa," then kick up his feet and blow smoke rings at the world. But Leonardo never put his feet up. He wasn't just an artist; da Vinci studied the body from life, not books. He was an inventor, military theorist—the helicopter and the tank are but two of his ideas—mathematician, musician. The list goes on. Basically the most multi-talented guy to ever live, Leonardo da Vinci always followed his own curiosity wherever it led.
The moon. First human being ever to walk on it. In one of the iconic moments in human achievement, he spoke the words, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." If it were just that, however, it would be cool, but not jaw-dropping. What made Armstrong the hero he was that he commanded the mission that did it, Apollo 11, without even knowing for sure it would work. Before being an astronaut, he was a fearless test pilot pushing the limits of speed, yet he never swelled up his ego. He insisted that his words and actions were for the entire world, not just himself or even his country.
The automobile remade the world's landscape, and no one made automobiles like Henry Ford. More than just cars though, he put into place his system of assembly-line production that kicked industrial capitalism into overdrive. Between how stuff is made and how we get to it, the guy broke new ground. And his company took no prisoners too. Motown wouldn't exist without him.
Proof that one man can indeed change the world; Gandhi took on the most powerful empire since ancient Rome—Great Britain—and won. And he did it without firing a shot. Yeah, you can call him a revolutionary but that misses the point. He challenged the world to rethink power and force and largely due to his example, humanity jumped that much closer to the divine.
Kennedy, the 35th U.S. president, is as famous for his life and profound impact on our nation as for his much debated assassination. The first and only president to ever win the Pulitzer Prize, Kennedy—along with his young, striking wife, Jacqueline—brought a startling breath of fresh air to the White House. His short presidency was consumed by his belief in civil rights as well as the tense standoff with the Soviet Union during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
By word and deed, Reverend King forced the US to live up to its promises of freedom and end racial segregation. As a civil rights leader, non-violent protestor, unparalleled orator and martyr to his beliefs in justice, Martin Luther King, Jr. stands alone. From his start as a minister, King led boycotts and mass actions against racial prejudice. When later in life his beliefs led him to oppose the Vietnam war and economic injustice many turned against him, but he continued his fight. Today his dream is still being fought for, and his words ring truer than ever.
It was Andy's world and we were all just living in it. He didn't just make pop culture safe for art, Warhol helped take celebrity worship mainstream. He formed the first proto-punk band, the Velvet Underground, and influenced generations of musicians. He was at the center of the flamboyant New York City party scene made famous by its symbolic epicenter of decadence, Studio 54. A true original, Warhol also made experimental films. In art, everyone else is still trying to figure his innovations out—way beyond the soup cans.
In an era where we're surprised when politicians are able to string a series of words together in a sentence, a guy who not only saved his nation from being bombed out of existence but also won the Nobel Prize for Literature looks more and more mythic all the time. Giants did walk the earth, and Churchill could smack any of them into the dustbin of history. Born into a long line of ruling-class Brits, Churchill saw the threat in Adolf Hitler's rise and excoriated his country's leaders for trying to appease him. When it was his chance to lead, he led the British Empire into the throes of glory.
The King broke new ground when he fused rock with country music, rhythm and blues, gospel and pop captivating the planet in the process. Presley's fantastical career took on many incarnations, rock singer, military veteran, movie star and Las Vegas headliner, but through it all, Presley remained the No.1 American born entertainer of all time.
A true American movie star, McQueen was dubbed "The King of Cool" for his persona he played in many film roles, including his heroic turn in The Towering Inferno. A huge box office draw in the 1960s and '70s—The Magnificent Seven, Bullitt and The Great Escape among many others—McQueen was also an avid motorcycle and racecar enthusiast.
Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, bravely led the U.S. during the largest domestic crisis, the nation's bloody Civil War. Working toward the abolishment of slavery, he was assassinated just as the war was coming to close. Most historians regard the first Republican president to be our country's greatest president.
No one—no one— was cooler than Frank Sinatra, the so-called Chairman of the Board. One of the most iconic singers in American history, Sinatra went on to win an Academy Award, become a legitimate movie star and claim the close friendship of several U.S. presidents. When the annals of popular culture are written, no doubt Sinatra will be rightfully front-and-center accepting the applause.
The writer, inventor and most notably aviator, became famous in 1927 when he was the first pilot to take a solo transatlantic flight from New York to Paris in a single-seat, single-engine monoplane called Spirit of St. Louis, receiving a medal of honor.
Required reading for the human condition, William Shakespeare didn't just write about kings and princes, he combined high and low, men and women, realism and the supernatural, soliloquies and potty humor. The English language is basically what it is today thanks to Shakespeare's ability to come up with new phrases and images that we take for granted. High culture today, in his time his plays were more like a combination of the best Hollywood blockbuster and the craziest fraternity party you've ever been to.
There are no comparing apples to this apple-bruised scientific colossus. When you basically discover the rulebook of the physical world, like Newton did, you stand alone. Oh yeah, and calculus too, just for fun. That was kind of important for figuring out everything that came after—physics, chemistry, biology.
He was an English voice, writer, artist and peace activist who just happened to be, you know, one of the founders of The Beatles. As a solo artist Lennon penned and sang anthems "Give Peace a Chance" and "Imagine" prior to being murdered outside of his home in New York City.
The Nobel Prize-winning theoretical physicist was most famous for developing the theory of relativity. He was a self-proclaimed "deeply religious" man who was politically active, brilliant and, yes, eccentric. The combination of his scientific mind and humanitarian leanings evoked emotion in some and even death threats from those terrified of the controversial convictions and beliefs close to his heart and work. But nothing would deter this legitimate genius.
A legend in his time, Babe Ruth is so synonymous with the national pastime they crowned him "The Sultan of Swat." Ruth totally dominated the game of baseball as long as he played, and remade it in his powerful slugging image. And he lived off the field just like he did on it—to glorious excess. He lived it first, and he lived it bigger than anyone.
You can rattle off the more than one thousand inventions this innovation savant pioneered, and you still would barely scratch the surface of his genius. The man was an inventing machine. What he didn't originate—the telephone, light bulb, storage battery, rubber, electricity generation, he made into the form we now know. And what he did invent—the phonograph, the motion picture camera—was so mind-blowing it seemed like magic. This wizard conjured up the modern world.
J.P. Morgan became the world's greatest financier, and saved the U.S. economy not once but twice. And he did it despite not playing nice. He got the US out of its Civil War debt, but made a fortune selling back the army's rifles to the army at a huge markup. He was the original corporate raider. When he bought up Andrew Carnegie's U.S. Steel, it became the first billion dollar corporation. Look anywhere in finance today and you see his fingerprint. Our conclusion: Too bad this swaggering banker isn't around to save the country again.
This is the guy who dropped stuff from his tower and proved that the earth revolves around the sun. And, yeah, he was excommunicated from the Catholic Church for this. But the guy is even bigger than that. Because of him we have this thing called "science" that works on measurement and observation, and also the heretical mind-blower of the last millennium: there's nothing special about our particular corner of the vast, uncaring universe.
There's no avoiding the behemoth that Walt Disney wrought. From his humble beginnings as a cartoonist he pushed movies forward and through his imagination more than his management skills grew his business into an entertainment titan. Then, he turned his personality, even down to his signature, into an entertainment icon that reflected his family first values. Norman Rockwell wishes he had his vision, but somehow Rockwell-land doesn't have the same ring to it.
The original live fast, die young musical genius, Mozart might not seem so radical today, but by living for his music and nothing else he set the tone for artists for centuries. And in the classical world, he's still the gold standard. No one ever messed up selecting his works in concert. At the same time, he dressed outrageously, had an impish sense of humor and tweaked the collective nose of his time. Immortal—all by 35.
As a sculptor and painter, no one compares to Michelangelo. With David, the Sistine Chapel and the Pieta, he's culture personified. Add to that his work as the architect of the dome of St. Peter's in the Vatican, and you have completed the Renaissance artist trifecta. Michelangelo didn't just make art, he made it his way, full of power and motion and drama. Kind of like the man himself who was uncompromising and lived for his art. You've gotta be doing something right when even in your lifetime people call you, Il Divino or "The Divine One."
Say the name John Rockefeller and it means wealth. Not just a little. A big, stinking tower of filthy lucre to make other riches tremble in comparison. But Rockefeller was a man, too. And he made his wealth through his own efforts. Some think brutally (the term "robber baron" was coined for him and his rarefied class), others brilliantly. Whatever you believe about the competitor-killing practices of the company he founded and grew into a monopoly, Standard Oil, you can't fault the guy for the classy way he went out as a true philanthropist.
Not just an author, he became Papa—a symbol of manhood itself: virile, active, brooding, often self-contradictory. Along the way he also wrote some distinctive, classic prose that captured the spirit of a generation in works like The Sun Also Rises. By omitting overt descriptions of emotions and overblown descriptions in favor of simple words and actions, he made pain and heartache of his characters all the more powerful. Authors and screenwriters alike still labor in his shadow.
What can be more impressive than being one of the Founding Fathers of the United States? Franklin, a scientist, author, political activist, inventor (he's responsible for bifocals) and a diplomat, embodied the American spirit of the young country he helped to form.
Yes, the guy really could draw. He put the noses and everything where he wanted because he saw things his way. It worked. He went through stages almost as fast as women, and all of them redefined the word "art" for today. Sure there were artists before who experimented with abstraction, but in the first half of the 20th century no one took it as far as influentially as did Picasso. He remains the artist who defined modern, inspiring new ways to look at both painting and sculpture.
That we don't think it's totally crazy to hop in a tube of steel and fly halfway around the world a mile up—we owe it to Howard Hughes. OK, even if you do think it's kind of crazy, you still owe it to the man. Though he didn't invent the airplane, he did invent airplane travel.
When everyone else who ever helmed a ship knew that you couldn't get to Asia by sailing West from Europe, Christopher Columbus dared to believe differently. So he died thinking he was in the East Indies. No big deal. Just by being such a crazy gambler the man became the planet's ultimate explorer.
The third president of the United States, and the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson supported the separation of church and state, keeping God and government separate. One of our nation's most important Founding Fathers, Jefferson's presidential term included the U.S. acquisition of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.
It's hard to get more controversial than Malcolm X. And it's that controversy that shows you his brilliance and influence wasn't a fluke. After his death, the Black Power movement took him as their inspiration, working towards African-American self-reliance and respect in all-too racist world. Malcolm X reconnected blacks to their African roots, while also asking them to question beliefs imposed during slavery. For this he embraced the Nation of Islam, and condoned violence against blacks with violence. Later he moderated his views, seeing racism as a problem not just of black and white, but all humanity in pursuit of equality under God.
Modern, open, yet in harmony with nature, that's the essence of Frank Lloyd Wright's architecture, embodied in his private home, Fallingwater, and landmarks such as his Guggenheim Museum in New York City. Does a spiral gallery belong in an art museum? Wright didn't care. He was inspired by the natural shape, and so made something unique. The sense of simultaneous motion and calm in his buildings, based around primary geometries and lots of space, was one of the most influential design visions of the modern era.
Here was a man born to be obsessed with sound. Both his mother and wife were deaf, his father lectured on speaking and Bell worked as a speech therapist. Combine this with his insatiable curiosity, and—boom—you get the first device to carry the human voice artificially, the telephone. Though Ma Bell's Pa kept on inventing, his earliest child was game-changing.
Our nation's 40th president, Reagan will be remembered for many things including dismantling federal programs and telling the Soviet leader to "tear down this wall" during a speech at the Berlin Wall, helping to usher the end of the Cold War.
A true legend playing center field for the mighty New York Yankees, Mantle's style of baseball made him, by far, the most popular ballplayer of his generation. Winning three Most Valuable Player titles and playing in 16 All-Star games, Mantle played for seven World Series' winning clubs.
The Father of our Country is notable for two things: First, for being the military genius that helped win independence from Great Britain; and two for leaving office. Because unlike France, where we inspired a revolution of the people, Washington never betrayed that revolution's principles for power. The cherry tree notwithstanding, of course.
One of Hollywood's original bad boys, Dean became famous for his portrayal of Jim Stark in Rebel Without A Cause. He won two Oscar nominations in his all too short life. Many projected that Dean would have gone to have an enduring acting career but his forever young rebellious spirit lives on.
Ever been told you should just "let it out?" Thought someone stiff was obviously repressed? Dated someone totally neurotic? Then you have Freud's theories to thank. While people had mental problems before he came around, his approach to the mind uncorked the bottle and let the animal urges of human nature out to be contemplated, often in dreams. We're not fully in control, our past experiences haunt us, but we can make ourselves better. Even if he's no longer considered right, this new view of humanity is so fundamental now you can't escape it.
When you look to Japan as the spiritual homeland of bleeding edge electronics this is the guy to thank. What's his achievement? Oh, just the little company he started at age 25 in postwar Japan. You know it as Sony. Morita thought global before it became mandatory, and chose a short, Latin-derived name to appeal to the U.S. consumer. The compact transistor radio, Walkman, Playstation, Blu-Ray and more—all household names, all Sony. All derived from this branding and empire-building titan.
The painter who inspired a truckload of Provencal knick-knacks and museum gift shop fodder also wielded the brush (or palette knife or knife-knife) with an astonishing dynamism and a uniquely colorful, highly personal inspiration. Where the Impressionists were pretty, see any of his works in person, like Starry Night, and you instantly get a sense that this genius of a man was also a tortured one. He painted as he lost his mind at the end of his life, and his work expressed his inmost turmoil more than just the pretty sunflower in front of him.
The Academy Award-winning actor, Wayne is an enduring American icon. A true movie legend, Wayne came to personify—through his myriad roles in dozens of classic Westerns—the cowboy. The politically conservative man went on to win the Congressional Gold Medal as well as the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
You might say he's the godfather of Ikea. This internationally recognized designer and architect stood for glass, steel and simplicity. He's the guy who said, "Less is more." Probably his masterpiece, the Seagram Building in New York City, might not look like much at first glance. It's all about proportion, materials and details. Unfortunately, his style came to be copied everywhere in glass boxes that lacked his subtle taste. Architects love him, though try telling that to your modernist-hating landmark commission in your town.
The Oscar-winning actor was adored and admired for many reasons: his commanding screen presence, his philanthropy, his 50-year marriage to actress Joanne Woodward and, of course, those famous blue eyes. Newman is a force who will be greatly missed in Hollywood, with Julia Roberts and Brad Pitt on the long list of new Hollywood royalty who call Newman their "role model". The sales of his famous salad dressings and other Newman products raised more than $200 million for charity.
Hollywood might have global stars today, but they live only in translation, their voices dubbed, only their faces staying the same. Chaplin didn't have that problem. As the first international movie star in the silent era, his entire body communicated what the audience ate up. Though a clown, his humor still stands up. Not content to leave it on the screen, he fought for the integrity of actors as artists (founding United Artists to break from greedy producers) and always championed the little guy. That's what made Chaplin larger than life.
When many intellectuals of the mid-20th century were falling in love with dreams of communist utopias, Orwell saw through to the totalitarianism they hid. You just couldn't fool this guy. Besides writing the dystopian future vision of surveillance and that's all too familiar, 1984, as well as the political allegory Animal Farm, he was a journalist and critic of imperialism. Words were sacred to him, and meant to be clearly understood. He was the original anti-spin doctor and saw the danger of misusing language.
Love him or hate him, you have to agree, Richard Nixon played by his own rules. Sure, it got him into plenty of trouble; in fact like no other president before or since. But the guy was smart, and he never quit lightly, even after famously losing the presidency to the telegenic John F. Kennedy. His policies brought the US and China together and warmed the Cold War tensions with the Soviet Union. A lightning rod even today, he's a man who made history big and, in turn, made big history.
An American original, Samuel Longhorn Clemens remade himself from riverboat boy into a sharp-witted literary voice of the American frontier, Mark Twain. He was vastly misunderstood in his own time as just a humorist, and even today gets ignorantly called a racist. Instead, he used his humor to create colloquial characters and speech that reflected real people and concerns, the way they talked, not some ideal from Europe. Behind the satire was a simple poetry and love for his native people.
Wouldn't it be great if science fiction writers actually predicted something and it came true? Clarke did, and he didn't have to be Nostradamus to do it. Simply a genre-spanning genius who basically invented the communications satellite in 1945. He went on to write brilliant hard sci-fi, most famously 2001: A Space Odyssey. OK, so it had that weird fetus thing, but some day when we're all interstellar babies, it's bound to make sense.
Named the greatest actor of all time by Premiere, and the second greatest actor of all time by the American Film Institute, Grant commanded attention starring in numerous films including Philadelphia Story, North by Northwest and Notorious. He brought grace and class to his numerous roles and remains a legend today.