May 9th in history:
A new show on a Washington TV station made its debut on May 9th, 1955. It was a puppet show – called “Sam and Friends”, featuring comedy sketches by Jim Henson – which evolved into the Muppets.
The televised impeachment hearings against President Nixon by the House Judiciary Committee began in Washington on May 9th, 1974. The committee approved three articles of impeachment in late July. Nixon resigned less than two weeks after the committee votes.
A speech made in Washington, D.C. on the subject of television made headlines on May 9th, 1961. New FCC Commissioner Newton Minow told the National Association of Broadcasters that the majority of TV programming was a “vast wasteland.” Minow said the purpose of the speech was to urge broadcasters to air more programs in the public interest.
And May 9th is the birthday of several people who have won multiple awards for working on TV news shows…real and fictional:
Original “60 Minutes” anchor Mike Wallace, born on this date in 1918, won 21 news Emmys in his career.
Candice Bergen (born 1946) won five Emmy awards for playing fictional TV journalist “Murphy Brown.”
James L. Brooks (1940) directed the movie “Broadcast News,” and was co-creator of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” set in a TV newsroom in Minneapolis, which received 29 Emmys in seven seasons. The “Mary Tyler Moore” theme song, “Love Is All Around,” was written and sung by Sonny Curtis, born on May 9th of 1937. Curtis performed with Buddy Holly’s band, the Crickets, and also wrote the song “I Fought the Law.”
April 29th in history:
On this date in 1992, four white Los Angeles police officers were acquitted of assault charges in the videotaped beating of Rodney King, an African-American driver who was stopped after a chase. Riots broke out in L.A. after the verdict, and continued for several days.
On April 29th, 1974, President Richard Nixon released transcripts of White House tapes related to the Watergate investigation. Many offensive words on the tapes were replaced in the transcripts with the phrase “expletive deleted.”
Of all the villains committing crimes in the “Batman” movies of the ’80s and ’90s, two were women: “Catwoman,” played by Michelle Pfeiffer, and “Poison Ivy,” played by Uma Thurman. Both Pfeiffer (1958) and Thurman (1970) celebrate their birthdays on April 29th.
April 7th in history:
The first publicly-seen television broadcast between two U.S. cities happened on April 7th, 1927. The link between New York and Washington featured President Calvin Coolidge’s Secretary of Commerce, who would be president himself just two years later: Herbert Hoover.
President Richard Nixon announced on April 7th, 1969, that he would increase the U.S. troop withdrawals from Vietnam.
That announcement came on the 30th birthday of two famous men whose careers would be tied to Vietnam and Nixon. Director Francis Ford Coppola set the novel “Heart of Darkness” in Vietnam for his war epic “Apocalypse Now.” And TV personality David Frost conducted a famous series of 1977 interviews with former President Nixon, which were dramatized in the play and movie “Frost/Nixon.”
Also born on April 7th: Daniel Ellsberg (1931), famous for releasing the Pentagon Papers revealing government decisions about the Vietnam War, and another movie director, Alan Pakula (1928), who made “All the President’s Men,” about the Washington Post reporters who uncovered many details about the Watergate scandal in the Nixon White House.
April 1st in history:
A historic day for the Air Force in two countries: The Royal Canadian Air Force was founded on April 1st, 1924. Exactly 30 years later, in 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower authorized the establishment of the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado.
Clearing the “air” of smoke: Eisenhower’s vice-president, Richard Nixon, was president himself in 1970. On April 1st of that year, Nixon signed the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act, which would take all radio and TV commercials for cigarettes off the air in early ’71.
A popular substitute for smoking - chewing gum – has made a fortune for the William Wrigley Company, founded in Chicago on April 1st, 1891. Wrigley’s didn’t start selling gum until a year after the company was in business. Free samples of gum given away with packages of baking powder became more popular than the powder.
March 31st in history:
The battleship Missouri, where the Japanese surrendered to the U.S. to end World War II, was decommissioned on March 31st, 1992.
President Lyndon Johnson called for peace talks with North Vietnam in a live TV address on this date in 1968. Johnson surprised the nation when he ended his speech that night by declaring he would not seek another term as president.
Many famous movies about the Vietnam War were not made until years after LBJ and Nixon left office. The Deer Hunter (1978) was the first Vietnam movie to win an Oscar for Best Picture. Christopher Walken, born March 31st, 1943, won the supporting actor Oscar for his role in Deer Hunter. Walken also has appeared in the movie musicals Pennies from Heaven and Hairspray, and as a frequent host of “Saturday Night Live.” He shares a birthday with fellow Oscar winner Shirley Jones (born 1934), best known for musical roles in Oklahoma! and The Music Man, and as singing mom Shirley Partridge on “The Partridge Family.”
Walken’s Deer Hunter co-star Robert De Niro won the Best Actor award for Raging Bull at the Oscars on March 31st, 1981. The ceremony had been delayed by one day because of the assassination attempt against President Reagan.
February 21st in history:
Richard Nixon became the first U.S. president to visit China on February 21st, 1972. Nixon’s historic week-long visit included a stop at the Great Wall of China.
A different kind of structure was discovered on this date in 1953. February 21st was the date James Watson and Francis Crick discovered the structure of a DNA molecule.
The Washington Monument was the world’s tallest structure when it was dedicated on February 21st, 1885, one day before George Washington’s birthday. The monument is about 40 feet taller than the previous record-holder, the Cologne Cathedral in Germany.
George Washington was once played by Kelsey Grammer in a TV movie about Benedict Arnold. Grammer is best known as Frasier Crane on “Frasier” and “Cheers,” and Sideshow Bob on “The Simpsons.” He was born February 21st, 1955.
January 27th in history:
The three astronauts who were scheduled to fly on the first Apollo mission died in a launchpad fire on January 27th, 1967, less than a month before the planned mission. Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee were unable to escape from the Apollo capsule after a flash fire broke out during an equipment test. A pure oxygen atmosphere inside the capsule was blamed for helping the fire spread quickly.
The fire happened the same day in 1967 that an Outer Space Treaty was signed by the U.S., the Soviet Union, and Great Britain. Dozens of other countries have signed it since then. The treaty bans countries from putting weapons of mass destruction into Earth orbit, and from using the moon for military purposes.
The Vietnam War officially ended on January 27th, 1973, when Vietnam and the U.S. signed the Paris Peace Accords. The treaties were signed one week into President Nixon’s second term, and five years after the Paris peace talks began.
The grave of Doors lead singer Jim Morrison has become a popular tourist attraction in Paris. Morrison’s career only lasted four years after the release of the first album by the Doors on January 27th, 1967.
The first Doors album featured the hit “Light My Fire.” On this date in 1984, singer Michael Jackson’s hair caught on fire as a result of pyrotechnics used while he was filming a TV commercial for Pepsi.
January 9th in history:
New England Telephone and Telegraph introduced the first battery-operated telephone switchboard on January 9th, 1894.
On January 9th in 1968, the Surveyor 7 spacecraft made a successful soft landing on the moon, paving the way for manned landings on the moon’s surface.
It’s the birthday of the first U.S. President to make a phone call to astronauts on the moon, Richard Nixon (1913).
There were “no phone, no lights, no motor car” on “Gilligan’s Island,” but Gilligan and six other castaways had enough adventures to fill a sitcom, three TV movies and two cartoon series. January 9th is the birthday of actor Bob Denver, alias Gilligan (1935).
January 2nd in history:
At the start of what turned out to be his last year in the White House, President Richard Nixon signed a national speed limit bill on January 2nd, 1974. The speed limit was set at 55 mph nationwide, to save gasoline during an energy shortage.
Nixon was vice president in January of 1960, and he became the Republican nominee that year to succeed lame-duck president Dwight Eisenhower. On January 2nd of 1960, Nixon’s eventual Democratic opponent, Senator John F. Kennedy, launched his presidential campaign.
Kennedy won the 1960 election, but did not live to run again in 1964. While many people thought Nixon might run for president again in ’64, the GOP nomination that year went to Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater — who was born on January 2nd of 1909.
December 31 in history:
The days of traditional street lamps were numbered after December 31st, 1879, when Thomas Edison demonstrated incandescent street lamps in Menlo Park, New Jersey.
If it hadn’t been for Edison, maybe New Yorkers would still start the new year with fireworks in Times Square, instead of dropping a lighted ball. Fireworks were used during the first few year-end celebrations at the Times building in Manhattan, starting in December of 1904. But on the night of December 31st, 1907, a ball with electric lights was used for the first time to count down the final seconds of the old year.
England actually does “ring in” a new year by airing the midnight chimes of the bell “Big Ben” over BBC Radio. That broadcasting tradition was born on New Year’s Eve of 1923.
Another famous “Ben” from England was born on December 31st, 1943: actor Ben Kingsley, whose birth name was Krishna Bhanji. Kingsley won an Oscar for playing the title role in Gandhi, and he’s been featured in Schindler’s List and Bugsy.
Sir Ben Kingsley shares a New Year’s Eve birthday with Sir Anthony Hopkins (born 1937), best known for winning the Oscar as Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs. Hopkins also has played real people such as Hitler, Picasso, Richard Nixon, and John Quincy Adams. Hopkins and Kingsley were among five Oscar winners who jointly honored the Best Actor nominees at the Academy Awards in February of 2009.