May 6th in history:
Before 1994, if the average traveler wanted to cross the English Channel, that person would have to swim, take a boat or fly across. But on May 6th of 1994, the underground railroad “Chunnel” opened between the two countries. First, Queen Elizabeth rode from England to France, and then French President Francois Mitterrand rode with the queen back to England.
On May 6th, 1954, Roger Bannister became the first person to run a mile in less than four minutes, at a meet in Oxford, England. Bannister beat the four-minute mark by six-tenths of a second.
Two men who became famous as explorers of different frontiers both were born on May 6th of 1856: Robert Peary, credited with discovering the North Pole, and pioneering psychiatrist Sigmund Freud.
May 1st in history:
May 1st seems to be a big day for “kings” …
On May 1st of 1328, the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton recognized the Kingdom of Scotland as independent from the Kingdom of England. That declaration was reversed exactly 379 years later – May 1st, 1707 – when the Act of Union joined the Kingdoms of Scotland and England to form Great Britain.
King Kamehameha I established the Kingdom of Hawai’i on this date in 1785.
The star of “Blue Hawaii,” Elvis Presley (the King of Rock and Roll), married Priscilla Beaulieu in Las Vegas on May 1st, 1967.
The Empire State Building, a popular hangout of King Kong, was dedicated in New York on May 1st, 1931.
An obituary of Jack Paar called him the original “King of Late Night,” as host of the “Tonight Show” in the late ’50s and early ’60s. Paar was born on this date in 1918. Paar inherited the “Tonight” job from Steve Allen, whose TV shows often featured comedian Louis Nye, born 100 years ago today in 1913. Nye’s TV work included a recurring role as Sonny Drysdale on “The Beverly Hillbillies”.
April 16th in history:
On April 16th, 2004, the cruise ship Queen Mary 2 began its first trans-Atlantic crossing from England to New York.
The sinking of the Titanic in 1912 overshadowed the trip made by Harriet Quimby on April 16th of that year. Quimby became the first woman to fly over the English Channel on that day, making the trip in just under an hour.
The next-to-last manned flight to the moon, Apollo 16, was launched on this date in 1972.
And April 16th is the birthday of the composer of “Moon River,” Henry Mancini (1924).
April 5th in history:
On April 5th of 1614, Pocahontas married English colonist John Rolfe in Virginia.
Seven years later, and farther north in the colonies, the Mayflower took to the open water, beginning its return trip to England, leaving the Pilgrims at their settlement in Plymouth.
On April 5th, 1887, six-year-old Helen Keller discovered how the word “water” was spelled in sign language, and what it meant, from her teacher, Annie Sullivan.
Patty Duke and Anne Bancroft won Oscars for playing Keller and Sullivan in the 1962 movie “The Miracle Worker.” Bancroft could not attend the awards ceremony, and Joan Crawford accepted the award for her, allegedly to spite losing nominee Bette Davis, born on this date in 1908. Davis and Crawford had co-starred the previous year in “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?”, but only Davis got an Oscar nomination.
The same night that Crawford accepted the Oscar for Anne Bancroft, Gregory Peck won the Best Actor award for playing Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Peck was born on this day in 1916.
March 26th in history:
The first driving test in Great Britain was given on March 26th, 1934. Presumably, no points were taken off for driving on the left side of the road.
Another first in England occurred on March 26th, 1976, when Queen Elizabeth sent the first royal e-mail. (We assume it did not begin “Greetings, I am the Queen of England, and I have a large sum of money to deposit in your bank account …”)
Other distinguished women are celebrating birthdays on this day: the first female speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi (1940); the first woman on the U.S. Supreme Court, Sandra Day O’Connor (1930); and Supremes lead singer Diana Ross (1944).
March 26th is also the birthday of the President of the United States and the Chief of Control…from the 2008 movie version of Get Smart. James Caan (born 1940) played the president, and Alan Arkin (1934) was the Chief. Caan and Arkin worked together more famously as Freebie and the Bean in 1974.
February 24th in history:
There was celebration in England on this date in 1981, as 32-year-old Prince Charles announced his engagement to 19-year-old Lady Diana Spencer. The royal wedding happened that July, making Diana the Princess of Wales.
The duties of many festival princesses include riding on floats in a parade. There were no floats in U.S. parades until February 24th, 1868, when a float was introduced at a Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans.
Mardi Gras is celebrated on the day before the start of Lent. The Gregorian calendar, announced on February 24th, 1582, made changes in how the dates of Lent and Easter are determined every year. The calendar also declared that some years ending in “00″ would not be leap years.
French actress Emmanuelle Riva saw 22 leap years come and go before she received an Oscar nomination. She celebrates her 86th birthday today at the Academy Awards, as the oldest-ever nominee for Best Actress, for the film “Amour.”
The record for oldest acting nominee ever is still held by Gloria Stuart, nominated for supporting actress at age 87 for “Titanic,” in which she played Rose as an old woman. Billy Zane portrayed young Rose’s fiance Cal in “Titanic.” He was born on this date in 1966.
February 19th in history:
Space travelers from Russia and other countries rode aboard the Mir Space Station during its 15 years in Earth orbit. The Mir successfully went into orbit on February 19th, 1986.
On this day in 1988, athletes were competing at the Winter Olympics in Calgary. One of the most memorable athletes at Calgary was British ski-jumper Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards. Heavier than his opponents and requiring glasses, Eddie won a cult following even though he rode his skis to last-place finishes in both his events.
Eddie Arcaro was born February 19th, 1916. Arcaro won almost 4,800 horse races in his career as a jockey, including two Triple Crowns.
Actor Lee Marvin also had success riding a horse. Marvin, born February 19th, 1924, won the Best Actor Oscar in 1965 for playing the drunken gunfighter Kid Shaleen in “Cat Ballou.”
February 6th in history:
Ronald Reagan served two terms in the Oval Office after successful careers as a radio announcer, an actor, and Governor of California. The 40th president was born in Tampico, Illinois, on this date in 1911.
The 20th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution took effect on February 6th, 1933. The amendment clarified the order of succession to the presidency, and moved the start of a presidential term from March 4th to January 20th.
Cardinal Achille Ratti succeeded to the position of pope on February 6th, 1922, taking the name Pius XI. It took 14 ballots for the College of Cardinals to elect Ratti.
James II succeeded his brother, Charles II, as king of England on this date in 1685.
And Princess Elizabeth, the daughter of King George VI, became Queen Elizabeth II of England on February 6th, 1952. That was the second birthday of the daughter of another “King”: singer Natalie Cole, whose father was Nat “King” Cole.
January 30th in history:
The British monarchy came to a temporary end on January 30th, 1649, when King Charles the First was beheaded by opponents of royalty. Oliver Cromwell led England as Lord Protector for several years afterward. When the monarchy was restored, after Cromwell’s death, royalists dug up his body and beheaded him in retaliation on January 30th, 1661.
On January 30th, 1933, Adolf Hitler was sworn in as the chancellor of Germany. Hitler came to power on the 51st birthday of the newly-elected U.S. president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was sworn in weeks later. FDR and Hitler would both die in the same month, April 1945, as the U.S. and its allies were about to defeat Nazi Germany in World War Two.
January 25th in history:
King Henry the 8th was married on January 25, 1533, secretly marrying his second wife, Anne Boleyn. Henry’s desire to end his first marriage and take a new wife led to a major split with the Catholic Church.
A more public royal wedding took place on January 25, 1858. The bride was Princess Victoria, daughter of England’s Queen Victoria. After Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March” was played at the ceremony, many future couples chose to use the song at their weddings.
President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle danced to the same song at every inaugural ball in January of 2009: “At Last,” made famous by singer Etta James. James was born on this date in 1938.