Randy Newman

November 28

Randy Newman (1943)

It was on this date, November 28, 1943, that American songwriter and singer Randy Newman was born Randall Stuart Newman in Los Angeles. In his youth, he spent time in New Orleans with his mother's family, and was influenced by the music there. He is the nephew of Al Newman, who wrote classic movie scores for How The West Was Won, Airport, and How Green Was My Valley, as well as the 20th Century Fox fanfare).

Composing may not have been in the blood, but Newman's heart was in it for years before he hit it big. Besides charting his own recordings, such as "Short People" (1977) and "Baltimore" (1978), Joe Cocker covered his song "Guilty" and "You Can Leave Your Hat On" (from The Full Monty, 1997); Tom Jones and Three Dog Night covered "Mama Told me Not to Come."

And Newman wrote songs for such films as "Something Special" from Overboard (1987), "Falling in Love" from Her Alibi, "Burn On" from Major League (1989), "I Love to See You Smile" from Parenthood (1989), "Mr. President — Have Pity on the Working Man" from Forrest Gump (1994), "That'll Do" from Babe: Pig in the City (1998), and "Lonely At The Top" from You've Got Mail (1998). In spite of that distinguished list, it wasn't until his 16th songwriter nomination that Randy Newman took home a gold statue for the song "If I Didn't Have You," from the 2001 film Monsters, Inc.

Newman speaks of his atheism in many interviews. In one, Newman said, "I never had faith. ... But I have respect for the idea. There's no joy being an atheist."* Some of his lyrics, especially from his 1972 album Sail Away, tell the same story:

And the Lord said: I burn down your cities — how blind you must be
I take from you your children and you say how blessed are we
You all must be crazy to put your faith in me
That's why I love mankind...
You really need me...
That's why I love mankind.
—"God's Song"

Don't need no god to comfort you,
You taught me not to believe that lie.
—"Old Man"
Randy Newman's fan website, operated by Jim Coan, quotes his father as saying Randy Newman lost his faith, if he ever had any, at age nine or ten.** Still, his song, "I Love L.A." (1983) became an anthem for the city.

* Houston Chronicle Interactive interview by Mark Evangelista, n.d., but referenced on the Celebrity Atheists website.
** Jim Coan's Randy Newman website contains detailed biographical information. Mention of Newman's atheism can be found on this page.

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Sir Leslie Stephen


Sir Leslie Stephen (1832)

It was also on this date, November 28, 1832, that the British writer, and first editor of the Dictionary of National Biography (1885-1891), Leslie Stephen was born in Kensington Gore, London. Brought up in a Clapham Sect household of Christians, Stephen was educated first at Eton, then graduated from Trinity Hall, Cambridge, where he excelled in athletics. There he was compelled to become an Anglican clergyman in order to make a living as a tutor. But his reading of John Stuart Mill, Auguste Comte, and Immanuel Kant led to his rejection of Christianity, so that by 1862 Stephen had renounced his religious duties, and by 1870 his religion.

Stephen said he never lost his faith because he never had any. He turned to editing various journals and associated with writers such as Robert Lowell, Robert Louis Stevenson, Thomas Hardy, and Henry James. Stephen's chief work was his 1876 History of English Thought in the Eighteenth Century, in which he examined the beliefs of English Deists and the skepticism of David Hume. He wrote Essays on Free Thinking and Plain Speaking (1873) and An Agnostic's Apology (1893), which clearly articulated his beliefs and helped to bring Thomas Henry Huxley's newly coined word, "agnostic," into vogue.

Stephen, an energetic Alpine climber, was rather unwillingly knighted in 1902 and was father to two famous daughters, Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell. It was Sir Leslie Stephen who wrote in his journal, "I now believe in nothing, to put it shortly; but I do not the less believe in morality" (26 January 1865). That assessment was borne out by his biographer, Frederick William Maitland, in his Life and Letters of Leslie Stephen (1906).

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Ronald Bruce Meyer is a freelance writer.
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