STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN

March 5th in history:

Two famous show-business deaths on March 5th: John Belushi and Patsy Cline, who were both in their early 30s when they died. Comedian Belushi was found dead of a drug overdose on this day in 1982. Cline and other country singers were killed in a 1963 plane crash in Tennessee.

John Belushi once played an alien named Kuldorth in a “Coneheads” sketch on “Saturday Night Live.”  On the day Belushi died in ’82, a Soviet spacecraft called Venera 14 landed on the surface of Venus, surviving the heat and atmospheric pressure of the planet for nearly an hour to take photographs.

A milestone in flight on March 5th, 1912: It was the first time that a dirigible, or zeppelin, was used for military purposes, when Italy sent a dirigible behind Turkish lines on a spy mission.

Led Zeppelin performed “Stairway to Heaven” for the first time in public in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on March 5th, 1971. The band’s bassist, John Paul Jones, says audience members were bored by the song because they had never heard it before.

HIT THE ROAD, JACK

March 4th in history:

Franklin D. Roosevelt was sworn in for the first of his four terms as president on March 4th, 1933.  It was the last March inauguration.  The swearing-in date changed to January 20th in 1937.  FDR’s first inaugural address was the one in which he said “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Fear of an unseen, menacing truck driver is what drives the plot of Steven Spielberg’s 1971 made-for-TV movie Duel.  The real driver behind the wheel of the truck in Duel was stunt driver Carey Loftin, who also drove in famous chase scenes for Bullitt and It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.  Loftin was 83 years old when he died on this date in 1997.

March 4th is the birthday of the AAA (American Automobile Association), founded in Chicago in 1902.

German auto maker Gottlieb Daimler unveiled his first automobile on this day in 1887. Daimler is credited as the inventor of the first four-wheel auto.

Popular hot-rod designer of the 1960s, Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, was born on March 4th, 1932.

FRIDAY’S CHILDREN

March 3rd in history:

“The Star-Spangled Banner” became the national anthem of the United States on March 3rd, 1931.

On this date in 1845, Florida became the 27th star in the flag when it joined the union.

The Apollo 9 mission was launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on this date in 1969. It was the first test flight for the lunar landing module, and its three-man crew consisted of Jim McDivitt, Rusty Schweikart, and David Scott.

Another “Mr. Scott” well known for fictional space travels, actor James Doohan of the “Star Trek” TV series was born on March 3rd of 1920.

Bowen FaustinoAnother historic video was shot on March 3rd, 1991, when a man in Los Angeles filmed a police beating from his window.  The beating of black driver Rodney King by white policemen touched off racial tensions, which led to riots in L.A. the following year when a jury acquitted the police officers.

A remake of the TV series “Dragnet,” about the L.A. police, starred Ed O’Neill as Sgt. Joe Friday.  O’Neill is better known as a sitcom dad on “Married…with Children” and “Modern Family,” and two of his TV children have March 3rd birthdays.  They are Julie Bowen (born 1970), Claire Dunphy of “Modern Family,” and David Faustino (1974), Bud Bundy from “Married.”

I’M ON THE TOP OF THE WORLD, LOOKIN’ DOWN ON CREATION

March 2nd in history:

Just days before President Ulysses S. Grant was scheduled to leave office in 1877, Americans still didn’t know who the next president would be. A dispute over electoral votes ended March 2nd, three days before the inauguration ceremony, when a special commission declared Rutherford B. Hayes the new president by just one electoral vote. Samuel Tilden had won the popular vote in the 1876 election.

It took just three ballots to choose a new pope on March 2nd, 1939. On his 63rd birthday, Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli became Pope Pius XII.   Pacelli was assigned to Rome for most of his priesthood, and he was welcomed to the Vatican in 1901 by Pope Leo XIII, born Vincenzo Pecci on this day in 1810.

Leo was the first pope to appear in a motion picture, and to have his voice recorded.  That pope shares a birthday with a “Carpenter” who was famous for recordings: singer Karen Carpenter, born March 2nd, 1950.  Teamed with her brother Richard, Karen sang lead on several hit songs in the 1970s, including “Close to You,” “Superstar,” and “Top of the World.”

Wilt Chamberlain was already a basketball superstar in 1962, as the NBA’s all-time scoring king for a single game, but he was on top of the world on March 2nd of that year.  On that day, Chamberlain became the first (and so far, only) player in the league to ever score 100 points in one game, leading the Philadelphia Warriors to a 169-147 win over the New York Knicks. The game played in Hershey, Pennsylvania, was broadcast on the radio, but not on TV.

TAKING FLIGHT

March 1st in history:

On March 1st, 1962, an American Airlines flight from New York to Los Angeles with 95 people aboard crashed into Jamaica Bay just after takeoff from Idlewild Airport on Long Island. No one survived. It was the worst crash involving a U.S. commercial airliner up until that time.

The crash happened on the same day that astronaut John Glenn was being honored in New York with a ticker-tape parade, for being the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth. Fellow Mercury astronaut Deke Slayton turned 38 that day. Slayton was scheduled to fly on the next Mercury mission, but a medical problem grounded him, and kept him from flying in space until 1975.

Other famous people associated with flying were born on March 1st.  They include:

Bandleader Glenn Miller (born 1904), lost on a plane flight while serving in World War II;

Actor Robert Conrad (birth year in dispute, either 1929 or 1935), who played World War II pilot Pappy Boyington on “Black Sheep Squadron,” but is best known as secret agent James West on “The Wild Wild West”;

And Ron Howard (1954), who directed the space drama Apollo 13.  Before becoming an award-winning director, Howard played Opie Taylor on “The Andy Griffith Show” and Richie Cunningham on “Happy Days.”

MILITARY FACT AND FICTION

February 28th in history:

The Persian Gulf War ended on February 28th, 1991 – less than two months after U.S. troops began the invasion to liberate Kuwait from Iraqi control.

The Navy ship USS Princeton was the site of a deadly explosion on this date in 1844. President John Tyler and members of his cabinet were aboard the Princeton on the Potomac River when a cannon exploded during a demonstration. Tyler was not hurt, but the blast killed Secretary of State Abel Upshur and the Secretary of the Navy, among others.

Charles Durning, born February 28th, 1923, played a president, a U.S. Senator, a governor, and many other authority figures, as well as Santa Claus, during a long acting career.  He may be best known for roles in The Sting, Dog Day Afternoon, and Tootsie.  Durning also fought in World War II, and took part in the D-Day invasion at Normandy.

MacLeod DurningIt’s also the birthday of Gavin MacLeod (1931), who has played several military roles on-screen, in Operation Petticoat, Pork Chop Hill, and the TV series “McHale’s Navy.”  MacLeod’s most famous TV characters are Murray Slaughter on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and Capt. Merrill Stubing on “The Love Boat.”

Pork Chop Hill was a Korean War drama.  The TV series “M*A*S*H” was a Korean War comedy which became more serious during its 11-year run on CBS.   On February 28th, 1983, over 100 million people watched the movie-length finale of “M*A*S*H,” in which the war ended. “M*A*S*H” lasted longer than the combined total of the Korean War, the Gulf War, and the Tyler Administration.

SO, YOU WANT TO BE PRESIDENT

February 27th in history:

Historians believe a speech by Abraham Lincoln on this day in 1860 gave him a major boost toward the presidency. Lincoln impressed an audience with an address at the Cooper Union hall in New York City, raising his national profile.

If Lincoln had not been shot during his second term, he could have run for as many terms as he liked. There was nothing in the Constitution to stop him — until February 27th, 1951, when the 22nd Amendment was ratified. That amendment was passed after Franklin Roosevelt was elected president four times. It says a president can be elected to no more than two terms — or just one full term, if he or she took over for another president who had served less than half a term.

February 27th is the birthday of two men who have run for president: consumer advocate Ralph Nader (1934) and former Texas Governor John Connally (1917). Also, the birthday of a recent White House resident, Chelsea Clinton (1980).