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.
April 11th in history:
Famous pink slips on April 11th …
In 1951, President Harry Truman relieved Gen. Douglas MacArthur of all his commands in the Far East, after MacArthur objected to policies of the U.S. and the United Nations.
Uganda’s “President for Life,” Idi Amin, fled the country after eight years in power on this date in 1979.
The Treaty of Fountainbleau, Napoleon’s pink slip, was signed on April 11th, 1814. Under the treaty, several European countries required Napoleon to step down as emperor of France, which led to his exile to Elba.
And the last emperor of China, Puyi, was fired by Chinese Communists. His story was told in the movie called “The Last Emperor,” which won Best Picture at the Oscars on April 11th, 1988.
March 28th in history:
On March 28th, 1854, Britain and France declared war on Russia, bringing those countries into the Crimean War. The largest numbers of troops fighting the war came from Russia, France, Britain, and Turkey.
On this day in 1930, the city of Constantinople was given the more Turkish name Istanbul. The change inspired a popular song, “Istanbul (Not Constantinople),” which was a hit for the Four Lads in 1953 and later covered by They Might Be Giants.
The 1964 heist movie Topkapi is set in Istanbul. British actor Peter Ustinov won his second Supporting Actor Oscar for Topkapi (his first Oscar was for Spartacus). Ustinov, also known as an author and playwright, was 82 when he died on this date in 2004.
Ustinov was born Peter Alexander von Ustinov (or Ustinow). The singer born Stephani Germanotta, now known as Lady Gaga, was born this day in 1986, and is known for hits such as “Poker Face” and “Born This Way.” And popular radio DJ John Records Landecker really was born that way, with the middle name “Records,” on March 28th, 1947. Landecker is best known for working at Chicago station WLS in the ’70s and ’80s.
On March 10th, 1785, Thomas Jefferson was appointed the U.S. minister to France, replacing Benjamin Franklin.
Nineteen years later, Jefferson was president of the United States, and negotiated the purchase of the Louisiana territory from France. The purchase was made official in St. Louis on March 10th, 1804.
And the French Foreign Legion was established by King Louis-Philippe on this day in 1831.
March 8th in history:
Two U.S. presidents died on March 8th: Millard Fillmore in 1874, and William Howard Taft in 1930. Fillmore was not nominated for a second term by the Whigs in 1852, and finished third in the electoral vote in the 1856 election. Taft came in third in his 1912 re-election bid, behind Woodrow Wilson and Teddy Roosevelt. Taft served as Chief Justice for nine years, and retired just weeks before his death.
Charles De Gaulle was still president of France when construction began on an airport near Paris that would be named after him. De Gaulle International Airport opened eight years later, on this date in 1974.
Arthur Dent began his travels through the universe when the first episode of the radio show “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” was broadcast on the BBC on this date in 1978.
And March 8th is the birthday of the “Skipper” who led the S.S. Minnow on an infamous “three-hour tour.” Alan Hale of “Gilligan’s Island” was born on this date in 1921.
In its final season, “Gilligan’s Island” aired Monday nights on CBS, opposite “The Monkees” on NBC. Monkees singer and drummer Micky Dolenz was born March 8th, 1945.
February 26th in history:
On February 26th, 1815, Napoleon Bonaparte escaped from exile on the island of Elba, off the coast of Italy. He soon returned to power in France before being defeated at Waterloo that same year.
Napoleon sold the Louisiana territory to the United States in 1803. Louisiana became the home of Dixieland music, and on this date in 1917, the Original Dixieland Jass Band made the first jazz recording for the Victor Company.
Musician Fats Domino, a New Orleans native, was born on February 26th, 1928. It’s also the birthday of Minnesota Fats from the movie The Hustler, Jackie Gleason (born 1916). Gleason’s most popular character was Brooklyn bus driver Ralph Kramden from “The Honeymooners.”
February 23rd in history:
Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press and movable type made mass production of books popular. The first mass printing of the Gutenberg Bible began on February 23rd, 1455.
The power of the press was demonstrated in the Dreyfus Affair in France. On this date in 1898, author Emile Zola was convicted of libel for writing a newspaper letter headlined “J’accuse!” Zola accused leaders of the French Army of falsely convicting officer Alfred Dreyfus for spying, partly because Dreyfus was Jewish. As a result of the letter and Zola’s trial, the Dreyfus case was reopened, and Dreyfus eventually was freed from prison and exonerated.
“The Life of Emile Zola” took the Oscar for Best Picture of 1937, defeating two movies by director Victor Fleming…”Captains Courageous,” and “The Good Earth.” Fleming, born on February 23rd, 1889, had better luck in the 1939 Oscar race, as director of both “Gone With the Wind” and “The Wizard of Oz.” Fleming was named Best Director for “Gone With The Wind,” which also won Best Picture.
November 27 in history:
U.S. government agents shot and killed several notorious bank robbers in 1934, including John Dillinger, Bonnie and Clyde, and “Baby Face” Nelson. On this date in ’34, Baby Face — real name, Lester Gillis — was shot during a gunfight with federal agents and died a short time later.
A 38-year-old woman got part of a new face in an operation performed in France on November 27th, 2005. It was the world’s first partial face transplant. The patient received a new nose and mouth from a deceased donor, to replace the portion of her face that was attacked by a dog.
Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman ever to receive an Oscar for Best Director, for making the Iraq war drama “The Hurt Locker.” Bigelow also is known for directing the heist movie “Point Break.” Bigelow was born November 27th, 1951.
November 22 in history:
On the last day of his life, John F. Kennedy was thinking about the 1964 election. President Kennedy and his wife, Jackie, were making a political trip through Texas on November 22nd, 1963. The president had appearances scheduled that day with Vice President Lyndon Johnson in Fort Worth, Dallas, and Austin. Kennedy only got to attend the breakfast in Fort Worth. Gunfire broke out as the president’s motorcade was leaving downtown Dallas on the way to a luncheon. Kennedy and Texas Governor John Connally, riding with their wives in an open car, were hit by bullets, and taken to Parkland Hospital. Within a short time, Kennedy was dead, Johnson was president, and the world was in mourning.
While in Fort Worth, Kennedy made a phone call to wish John Nance Garner a happy 95th birthday. Texas native Garner served two terms as Vice President under Franklin Roosevelt. French President Charles de Gaulle turned 73 on that Friday in ’63. The following Monday, de Gaulle was in Washington to join other world leaders at Kennedy’s funeral.
A few hours before the Kennedy shooting, “The CBS Morning News,” anchored by Mike Wallace, aired a story about a new rock-and-roll band creating a stir in England. That may have been the first time many Americans heard about the Beatles. The story on CBS coincided with the release that day of a new album by the Fab Four in the UK, called “With the Beatles.” The same album was sold later in the US under the name “Meet the Beatles.”
In later years, the Beatles recorded songs with references to politicians such as British Prime Ministers Harold Wilson and Edward Heath. The first English woman to serve as Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, stepped down because of a political power struggle on November 22nd, 1990. Thatcher had held that post for 11 years.
October 16 in history:
“Antoinette, dainty queen, with her quaint guillotine…” That line from the musical “Damn Yankees” refers to France’s Marie Antoinette meeting her fate on this date in 1793. The queen was beheaded nine months after her husband, King Louis the 16th.
The American colonies effectively cut themselves off from the King of England by winning the Revolutionary War. On October 16th, 1783, Army commander George Washington captured Yorktown, Virginia, in the final battle of the war.
The English once beheaded their own king, Charles the 1st, in the 1600′s and tried life without royalty for a few years. It didn’t stick, and the royal family returned during the Restoration. A popular novel about the Restoration, “Forever Amber,” was a best seller in the 1940′s. “Amber” author Kathleen Winsor, born in 1919, shared an October 16th birthday with the actress who played the lead in the movie version of the novel, Linda Darnell (1923).