Yesterday was Easter, so I didn’t have time to research famous birthdays – however, we should not forget the man who brought many faces to the silver screen through his characterization. Lon Chaney was born on April 1, 1883. I imagine he took a lot of guff being born on April fool’s day, but he became the man of a thousand faces throughout his career. Maybe hiding behind all those masks helped him to forget his birthday.
Today, another man’s life is celebrated. Giovanni Casanova was born on this day in 1725. His name has become synonymous with womanizing and scandalous affairs. Casanova was born of Venetian actors – which by most standards would be a set up for a loose lifestyle. My vision of this fellow is that of a playboy – an early Hugh Hefner, if you will. His fancy pants and powdered wig were most likely very appealing to the ladies.
He began life sadly, as his father died when he was only eight and his mother – the itinerant performer, spent her time touring Europe. Poor Casanova was left in the care of his grandmother and eventually sent to boarding school. This lack of parental intervention undoubtedly played a role in his persona – causing him to look for love in all the wrong places. He even once stated, “So, they got rid of me.”
In spite of the appalling living condition, the boy had a quick wit, an inquisitive mind and an appetite for knowledge. After attending the University at Padua, he earned a law degree and returned to Venice to practice clerical law. During his time in college, he began to gamble and quickly fell into deep debt. His charm and good looks allowed him to connect with some of the richest in society. However indebtedness caused him to be imprisoned for the first time.
At the age of 21 he set out to be a professional gambler, but lack of funds deterred him. Instead he spent time playing the violin and hanging out with the low life musicians of the time. He never relished the occupation, but enjoyed the many pranks he and his associates played on unsuspecting victims.
Good fortune seemed to follow him as he saved the life of a Venetian nobleman and was immediately taken under his wing. By this time, Casanova was growing more and more handsome and getting into more and more trouble. At the age of thirty he was somewhat like the prodigal son, leading a life of self satisfaction and narcissism. He was also at a very low point. He was imprisoned again. This time for affront to religion and common decency. As he sat in his disgusting cell, all he could think of was how to escape.
Thirty years later in 1787, Casanova wrote Story of My Flight, which was very popular and was reprinted in many languages. Casanova’s judgment of the exploit is characteristic:
“Thus did God provide me with what I needed for an escape which was to be a wonder if not a miracle. I admit that I am proud of it; but my pride does not come from my having succeeded, for luck had a good deal to do with that; it comes from my having concluded that the thing could be done and having had the courage to undertake it.”
Born of actors, he had a passion for the theater and for an improvised, theatrical life. He frequently succumbed to the quest for pleasure and sex, couldn’t hold a job and often got into trouble when prudent action would have served him better. His true occupation was living largely on his quick wits, steely nerves, luck, social charm, and the money given to him in gratitude and by trickery. His life led him to intrigue, spying, undercover work and anything that would lead to another scandalous encounter. His memoirs showed the way life was often lived at that time.
Stories like Casanova’s make great fodder for adventure, romance, frivolous living and the lush life, but with over indulgence also comes grief. Who is to determine the course of a man’s life? I wonder if he ever found out.