KING’S SPEECH

December 11 in history:

It was not the title speech given in the movie The King’s Speech, but King Edward VIII’s abdication speech was an important moment in the film, and in British history.  On December 11th, 1936, Edward took to the radio to explain to his subjects why he was stepping down after less than a year on the throne:  to marry the woman he loved, a divorced American named Wallis Simpson.  Many government leaders, including the prime minister, strongly opposed the king’s plans to wed Mrs. Simpson.

King gave a speech in Oslo, Norway on December 11th, 1964:  Martin Luther King, Jr., that is.  Dr. King presented a lecture on “The Quest for Peace and Justice” one day after formally accepting the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize.

And now, the award for outstanding Supporting Actress born on December 11th.  The nominees are:

Betsy Blair (born 1923), for Marty,

Rita Moreno (1931), for West Side Story,

Teri Garr (birth year uncertain), for Tootsie,

Mo’Nique (1967), for Precious, and…

Hailee Steinfeld (1996), for True Grit.

And the Oscar for Supporting Actress went to…(drumroll)…Moreno in 1962 and Mo’Nique in 2010.

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NAME THOSE TUNE-MAKERS

December 10 in history:

The Saturday night “Barn Dance” program on Nashville radio station WSM got a new identity on December 10th, 1927.  The show’s host, George D. Hay, joked on the air about his program being aired immediately after a show that featured the music of grand opera.  Hay said the next show would feature “the Grand Ole Opry.”  The Opry name caught on, and the radio show developed into the most famous country music stage show in America.

A San Francisco-area band called “Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champions” changed its name to “The Warlocks” in 1965, but soon learned that another band was using that name.  Band founder Jerry Garcia found a new name in a book, and on December 10th of ’65, the Warlocks played their first show under that new name: the Grateful Dead.

The Dead once opened for singer Otis Redding in 1966.  On December 10th of 1967, Redding and six other people died when their small plane crashed into Lake Monona in Madison, Wis., where Redding was supposed to perform that night.  Redding recorded what would become his only #1 hit, “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay,” three days before the crash.

“Dock of the Bay” was #1 the week that Democratic Sen. Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota won the Wisconsin presidential primary of 1968.  McCarthy would run for president a few more times after leaving the Senate.  He was 89 when he died on this date in 2005.

Eugene McCarthy did not run for re-election in the fall of 1970.  The made-for-TV band “The Partridge Family” had the number-one song in America on this date in 1970: “I Think I Love You.”  David Cassidy was lead singer for the Partridges on the TV series and on the records.  Another member of the sitcom band, Susan Dey, was born on December 10th, 1952.  Dey went from playing Laurie Partridge in the ’70s to the role of attorney Grace Van Owen on “L.A. Law” in the ’80s.

WHICH VICH IS WHICH?

December 9 in history:

“If Illinois isn’t the most corrupt state in the United States, it’s one hell of a competitor.”  That’s what an FBI special agent said on December 9th, 2008…the day Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich was arrested on a charge of trying to “sell” the U.S. Senate seat left vacant when Barack Obama was elected president.  Agents arrested Blagojevich on the day before his 52nd birthday.  The following month, Blagojevich was impeached for misconduct and removed from office by the Illinois legislature.  He was convicted of more than a dozen crimes, and began a 14-year prison term in March of 2012.

Blagojevich represented Chicago in the legislature and Congress.  A team called the Hustle represented Chicago in the Women’s Professional Basketball League, which played its first game on this date in 1978 in Milwaukee.  The Hustle won that inaugural game, 92-87, against the host team, the Milwaukee Does.

A Broadway-bound production of “Death of a Salesman,” about over-the-hill hustling salesman Willy Loman, played in Chicago in 1984.  It starred Dustin Hoffman as Willy, and John Malkovich of Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre as his son Biff.  Malkovich was born December 9th, 1953.  Also in 1984, Malkovich appeared in the movies “Places in the Heart” and “The Killing Fields,” and he later played himself in the comedy “Being John Malkovich.”

Malkovich portrayed Tom Wingfield in a 1987 movie version of the Tennessee Williams play “The Glass Menagerie.” A 1950 film of “Menagerie” featured a young Kirk Douglas as the other male character in the story, Jim O’Connor, the “Gentleman Caller.” Douglas was born Issur Danielovitch, and turns 101 today. His famous movie characters include Vincent Van Gogh in “Lust for Life,” and the title role in “Spartacus.”

I READ THE NEWS TODAY, OH BOY

December 8 in history:

On the last day of his life…December 8th, 1980…John Lennon posed nude for Rolling Stone magazine.  The photo of Lennon curled up and kissing his clothed wife, Yoko Ono, was used for the magazine cover after Lennon was shot and killed on December 8th in New York by an obsessed fan.  That day, Lennon’s new single “(Just Like) Starting Over” was the number 3 song in the U.S.  It rose to number 1 by the end of December.

John Lennon was the only Beatle who did not appear on “Saturday Night Live” during his lifetime.  Ringo Starr is the only Beatle who has hosted SNL, and that happened on December 8th, 1984.  Ringo’s monologue featured a duet with “Sammy Davis Jr.” (played by Billy Crystal).

On that night, the real Sammy Davis Jr. was celebrating his 59th birthday.  Sammy’s career included movies, Broadway, and hit songs like “The Candy Man,” but he’s also famous as a member of the Hollywood “Rat Pack” along with Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra.

On December 8th, 1963, Sinatra’s 19-year-old son Frank Jr. was kidnapped from a resort at Lake Tahoe.  The younger Sinatra was released near Los Angeles two days later, after his father paid a ransom of $240,000.  Three men eventually were convicted of the kidnapping.

FROM THE ATLANTIC TO PEARL HARBOR

December 7 in history:

Delaware became the first state to ratify the U.S. Constitution on December 7th, 1787.  As a result, it uses “The First State” as a nickname.

The most recent state to join the union, Hawaii, was not a state yet on December 7th, 1941, when it was attacked by Japanese war planes.  The surprise attack on the naval base at Pearl Harbor, early on a Sunday morning, claimed nearly 2500 American lives, destroyed dozens of U.S. planes, and sank four battleships.  Almost 1200 people died when the U.S.S. Arizona exploded.  President Roosevelt declared war on Japan the next day.

Many Americans first heard the news about Pearl Harbor during a break in a CBS radio broadcast of the New York Philharmonic.  On December 7th, 1930, an experimental television broadcast of a radio orchestra concert reportedly featured the first TV commercial in U.S. history.  The ad, broadcast in Boston, promoted a fur company that sponsored the radio show.  The commercial was illegal because the government didn’t allow advertising on television yet.

Another television first happened on December 7th, in 1969…the first broadcast of the “Frosty the Snowman” cartoon special on CBS.  With characters drawn by Mad magazine artist Paul Coker Jr., the show featured the voice of comedian Jackie Vernon as Frosty, with Jimmy Durante as the narrator.

SUPERHEROES AND UNDERDOGS

December 6 in history:

For the first time in U.S. history, the House of Representatives chose a vice president in mid-term under the 25th Amendment on December 6th, 1973. Michigan Congressman Gerald Ford was confirmed and sworn in the same day, nearly two months after former VP Spiro Agnew resigned. Before the 25th Amendment was ratified, if a sitting vice president died or resigned, the job remained vacant until the next election.

Jerry Ford was a college football star long before joining Congress in 1949. Jerry Rice of the 49ers set a pro football record on this date in 1992, catching the 101st touchdown of his NFL career. Rice needed only eight seasons to break the old record. A future football star was born on the day Rice set his record…2012 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel.

Rapper Chuck D mentioned Jerry Rice in the lyrics of his 1996 recording “Underdog.” Wally Cox, who spoke in rhyme as the animated super-hero Underdog, was born on December 6th, 1924. Cox also played schoolteacher “Mr. Peepers,” and was a regular panelist on “Hollywood Squares.” This is also the birthday of animator Nick Park (born 1958), creator of the stop-action Wallace and Gromit films. And on this day in 1964, the stop-action production of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” aired for the first time, as an NBC special sponsored by General Electric.

And underdogs are featured frequently in the work of Judd Apatow, born December 6th, 1967.  Apatow has produced, directed, and/or written “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Knocked Up,” “Trainwreck,” “Bridesmaids,” “Anchorman,” and the TV series “Freaks and Geeks.”

THE ONE-TERMERS CLUB

December 5 in history:

George Washington became America’s first two-term president in 1792.  On December 5th that year, the Electoral College unanimously chose Washington to continue as president.  John Adams was re-elected as vice president.

Adams and his son, John Quincy, both were one-term presidents.  John Quincy Adams was voted out of the White House in 1828, but won a seat in the House of Representatives two years later.  He took office as a Congressman on December 5th, 1831.

J.Q. Adams served in the House under five presidents, including Martin Van Buren, born on this day in 1782.  Van Buren, also a one-term chief executive, was the first U.S. president born after 1776.

James K. Polk was Speaker of the House under President Van Buren.  Polk also became president for just one term, and is credited with setting off the California gold rush during his last months in office.  In his State of the Union message to Congress on December 5th, 1848, Polk announced that gold had been discovered in the California territory earlier that year, and he claimed that most male residents of the territory were busy searching for gold.