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.”
Jackie Gleason starred in the movie Gigot as a Frenchman who could not speak. French actor Jean Dujardin won the Best Actor Oscar on February 26th, 2012, for playing a star of silent films in the mostly-silent film The Artist. The French movie, shot in Hollywood, also won the Oscar for Best Picture.
February 25th in history:
The U.S. Steel corporation was founded on February 25th, 1901. Businessmen J.P. Morgan, Elbert Gary and Andrew Carnegie combined smaller steel companies into one large firm. Upon its formation, U.S. Steel became the first company worth one billion dollars.
Two actors famous for playing very rich men were both born on February 25th in 1913. German actor Gert Fröbe had the title role in the James Bond adventure Goldfinger in 1964. That same year, Jim Backus began playing millionaire Thurston Howell III on “Gilligan’s Island.” Backus’s other famous roles include James Dean’s father in Rebel Without a Cause, and the voice of nearsighted cartoon character Mister Magoo.
On this day in 1964, boxer Cassius Clay, and anybody who bet on him, was in the money after Clay upset heavyweight champ Sonny Liston at Miami. Liston had had enough after six rounds, and Clay became the surprise champ by TKO. Clay declared himself “the greatest,” and became known as Muhammad Ali.
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 for the film “Amour.” Riva celebrated her 86th birthday at the Oscar ceremony on this date in 2013, but lost the Best Actress award to 22-year-old Jennifer Lawrence.
The Oscar 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 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.
February 22nd in history:
The very first Daytona 500 auto race was run February 22nd, 1959 at Daytona Beach, Florida. The first champ of Daytona was 44-year-old Lee Petty.
Another legendary sports event happened on this date in 1980: the “Miracle on Ice,” in which the U.S. Olympic men’s hockey team surprised the world by beating the Soviets, 4-3, in the semi-final round of the Winter Games. The Americans went on to win the gold against Finland in the games at Lake Placid, New York.
Actor Kirk Douglas once served as royalty at a winter carnival in Lake Placid. During the week of the Miracle on Ice game, Douglas was hosting “Saturday Night Live” in New York, featuring NBC announcer Don Pardo, born on this day in 1918. Until his death in 2014, Pardo had been the SNL announcer for most of the show’s run. Pardo also worked on the original versions of “Jeopardy” and “The Price is Right,” and broke the news of President Kennedy’s assassination on WNBC-TV in New York in 1963.
David Letterman was getting ready to move his talk show from NBC to CBS when it was announced on February 22nd, 1993 that CBS had bought the Ed Sullivan Theater, to keep Letterman’s show in New York.
On this day in 1964, the Beatles returned to England after their famous first visit to the U.S., which included three straight appearances on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” The band had pre-recorded its performance which would be seen on “Sullivan” the next night.
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.
February 20th in history:
Congress was ready to end Prohibition in 1933. On February 20th of that year, members of Congress proposed the 21st Amendment, to repeal the 18th Amendment that banned liquor in the U.S. and led to the rise of gangsters such as Al Capone.
Chicago lawyer Edward Joseph O’Hare helped send Capone to prison. O’Hare’s son, Edward “Butch” O’Hare, became the first American flying ace of World War II on February 20th, 1942, by shooting down Japanese bombers over the Pacific. Chicago’s O’Hare Airport is named after Butch.
Twenty years later, on February 20th, 1962, John Glenn became a different type of flying ace. That was the day Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth in the Mercury capsule Friendship 7.
February 20th is also the birthday of some performers who have played high-flying characters:
Actress Sandy Duncan (born 1946) has played Peter Pan frequently on stage;
Comedian Joel Hodgson (1960) was stuck on a spaceship, watching bad movies with two wise-cracking robots, on the TV series “Mystery Science Theater 3000”;
And French Stewart (1964) was part of a “family” of space aliens posing as humans on the sitcom “3rd Rock from the Sun.”