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.
Johnson’s withdrawal from the ’68 race may have helped Richard Nixon win the election that fall. Nixon’s future son-in-law, David Eisenhower (Ike’s grandson), turned 20 the day of LBJ’s speech. So did future Vice President Al Gore.
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.
March 30th in history:
On March 30th, 1981, President Ronald Reagan and three other men, including his press secretary, James Brady, were shot and wounded outside the Washington Hilton by gunman John Hinckley. Reagan became the first U.S. president to survive being shot while in office. The Academy Awards, scheduled for that night, were postponed for one day because of the shooting.
Reagan never received an Oscar nomination during his movie career, but his first wife, Jane Wyman, was nominated four times and won the award once. Wyman’s last nomination for Best Actress was for “Magnificent Obsession.” She lost that award to Grace Kelly (for “The Country Girl”) during the Academy Awards presented on March 30th, 1955. “On the Waterfront” won the Best Picture Oscar, along with acting honors for Marlon Brando and Eva Marie Saint.
When John Hinckley shot President Reagan, he claimed he did it to impress actress Jodie Foster. On March 30th of 1992, Foster won her second Oscar, for playing FBI agent Clarice Starling in “The Silence of the Lambs.” The movie also won awards for Best Picture, and for Anthony Hopkins as Dr. Hannibal Lecter.
Warren Beatty was nominated against Hopkins that night for the film “Bugsy.” Beatty, born on this date in 1937, has been Oscar-nominated for acting, writing, and directing. He took home the statue for directing “Reds” in 1981.
March 29th in history:
The juries in two famous murder trials reached verdicts on March 29th, 1971. One jury convicted Lt. William Calley of murdering Vietnamese civilians in 1968, in what became known as the My Lai massacre. The other jury recommended death sentences for cult leader Charles Manson and three of his female followers.
Two men born in England on March 29th, 1943, took very different paths to fame. John Major went into politics and served as British Prime Minister for seven years. Eric Idle became a comedian and writer, and one of the stars of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.”
Two famous Americans were born on March 29th in the same year, 1918: singer and actress Pearl Bailey, and Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton.
And two people who were in the news in early 1964 died on this day in 1985. One was Luther Terry, the U.S. surgeon general who released a report in January 1964 that linked lung cancer to cigarette smoking. The other was Jeanine Deckers, the “Singing Nun” whose record “Dominique” was a top 10 hit when Terry’s report was issued.
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.
March 27th in history:
Two Easter season disasters on this date: March 27th was Good Friday in 1964, when Alaska was hit by the most powerful earthquake ever in the country’s history. It measured 9.2, and caused more than 100 deaths. In 1994, Palm Sunday fell on March 27th, and a Methodist church in Piedmont, Alabama, was struck by a tornado which killed 20 people.
March 27th of 1513 was Easter Sunday, and explorer Juan Ponce de Leon first sighted a mass of land which he later named in honor of Easter, “Pascua Florida.”
A Florida resort was the main setting for the cross-dressing comedy “Some Like It Hot”, written and directed by Billy Wilder, who died on March 27th, 2002. Actors Milton Berle and Dudley Moore also died on the same day as Wilder. Berle made a habit of dressing as women on his hit TV show “Texaco Star Theater,” and Moore wore a nun’s habit during part of the comedy film “Bedazzled.”
Another of Billy Wilder’s major hit movies was Sunset Boulevard, which represented a comeback for Gloria Swanson, playing fictional silent-film star Norma Desmond. Swanson was born on March 27th, but the year is in dispute (1897 or 1899).
March 26th in history:
The first driving test in Great Britain was given on March 26th, 1934. Presumably, no points were taken off for driving on the left side of the road.
Another first in England occurred on March 26th, 1976, when Queen Elizabeth sent the first royal e-mail. (We assume it did not begin “Greetings, I am the Queen of England, and I have a large sum of money to deposit in your bank account …”)
Other distinguished women are celebrating birthdays on this day: the first female speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi (1940); the first woman on the U.S. Supreme Court, Sandra Day O’Connor (1930); and Supremes lead singer Diana Ross (1944).
March 26th is also the birthday of the President of the United States and the Chief of Control…from the 2008 movie version of Get Smart. James Caan (born 1940) played the president, and Alan Arkin (1934) was the Chief. Caan and Arkin worked together more famously as Freebie and the Bean in 1974.