(I wrote this two years ago, for an intra-company newsletter that was never published. Enjoy!)
Twentieth Century, world-renowned soldier, artist, inventor, and philanthropist, passed away yesterday at the age of 99. He is survived by his son, Twentyfirst.
Twentieth Century was born on January 1, 1901 in a small cottage in a town outside Sarajevo, Austria-Hungary. He was an only child, and was home-schooled by his father, Nineteenth Century, from whom young Twentieth developed his interests in inventing, fine arts and medicine. A child prodigy, Twentieth astounded the world in 1903, when, at the tender age of 2, he constructed the first heavier-than-air flying machine. Less than two years later, Twentieth published his first major scientific paper, on his Theory of Special Relativity.
During his adolescence, Twentieth began a lifelong involvement with the military. After the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand near his hometown, he quickly enlisted, lying about his age to enter the army. He joined the Air Corps, and was one of the few pilots to survive the war. Recognized on both sides for his commendable bravery, Lance Corporal Century was decorated by the highest awards that the nations of Germany, Italy, Russia, France, the Ottoman Empire, and Japan could bestow. However, his experiences in the Great War left him melancholy, and he drifted aimlessly. His travels led him to Russia, where he became a great champion of the Communist movement, much to the ire of his Western colleagues.
In 1921, Twentieth began his great patronage of modern art. He hosted, sponsored, and financed galleries and exhibitions of up-and-coming painters, sculptors and craftsmen. With his benevolence, an art movement once scoffed for being ridiculous quickly became mainstream, inspiring Art Deco, Cubism, Dadaism, Surrealism, and a whole new generation of graphic arts. Modern art became a cultural phenomenon, earning significant critical and financial success. Solomon R. Guggenheim, inspired by Twentieth’s initiative, opened his famous Museum in 1937 to continue the legacy of modern art. However, modern art drew great disdain from the more conservative artistic community; Aldous Huxley referred to Twentieth and his associations as “monstrous”. Twentieth’s own father strongly disapproved of this ‘new style of geometric doodles’.
However, the art community suffered under the Great Depression. Twentieth desperately attempted to keep his patronage strong, but he soon recognized the movement would survive without him. With the outbreak of World War II, Twentieth joined the U.S. Navy, serving with the Pacific Fleet. Risking life and limb, he daringly rescued two downed pilots during the Battle of Coral Sea. Again, he was heavily decorated, and again he was appalled by the loss of life.
Thus it was natural that Twentieth begin his medical career. He volunteered as a test subject for Dr. Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine, proving invaluable in that research endeavor. Twentieth quickly specialized in space medicine, devising medical programs and experiments for the early manned space programs. His greatest challenge came when he assisted Dr. Christiaan Barnard in the first heart transplant, in 1967. His efforts were rewarded in 1972, when Twentieth walked on the moon, accompanying Apollo 17 as senior flight surgeon.
Retiring after a crescendo of successes, Twentieth decided to do for classical music what he had done to art. He single-handedly invented Minimalism, the philosophy of reducing music down to the most basic form of repetitive notes. His first and last symphony, “Ad Nauseam in D Major for Kazoo, Zither, and Accordion” received besmirching reviews, and became critically loathed. One presentation of “Ad Nauseam” was fortunately aborted when the conductor developed acute carpal tunnel syndrome as a result of the tedious baton gestures. Twentieth was emotionally distraught from the critical failure of his compositions. He became disillusioned with the classical music community, which increasingly shunned Twentieth as pretentious.
His next move was what many consider an act of retaliation. At the behest of his protégé Andy Warhol, Twentieth embraced the world of pop culture. Twentieth began writing television sitcom scripts, notably for “M*A*S*H” and “Welcome Back, Kotter”. He also contributed his hand in the design of many of the movie posters of the mid-1970s, a cameo reference to his modern art sponsorship days. His influence in the mass communication world began to grow.
His role in the television industry served as a segway into his business endeavor. From his vantage point in telecommunications, Twentieth foresaw the rise in consumer electronics, particularly in microprocessors. He invested heavily in fledgling Japanese manufacturers and American computer corporations. Within ten years, he had become a multi-billionaire through the Tokyo Stock Exchange. Without his capital investments, companies like Apple, Toshiba, Microsoft and Sony would have remained in obscurity. Twentieth donated much of his profits on various environmental charities; he nobly bankrolled the cleanup of twelve miles of polluted Alaskan coastline in 1989.
Twentieth Century died suddenly of a heart attack while attending holiday festivities with friends in New York’s Times Square, on December 31st, 2000; tragically, his 100th birthday was only minutes away.