Category: Today in history

MARY HAD A LITTLE GUN

November 21 in history:

Thomas Edison became famous for many of his inventions, but the first one that caught on was the phonograph.  Edison announced the development of the sound recording device on November 21st, 1877.  His machine could both record sound on a metal cylinder and play it back.  Edison discovered that the phonograph worked when he recorded “Mary had a little lamb…”

The phonograph eventually led to other recording devices, such as the VCR.  No doubt, video recorders all over the U.S. were being used on November 21st, 1980, to tape the season premiere of “Dallas.”  It was the first new episode in eight months, since the cliffhanger episode in which bad guy J.R. Ewing was shot and wounded by an offscreen attacker.  The answer to the popular question “Who shot J.R.?” was…his mistress Kristin Shepard, played by Mary Crosby.  That night, “Dallas” set an American ratings record, broken three years later by the last episode of “M*A*S*H.”

“Dallas” was still on the air in 1989 when quarterback Troy Aikman joined the Dallas Cowboys.  He spent his entire NFL career with the Cowboys, leading them to three Super Bowl titles in four years.  Aikman was born November 21st, 1966.

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BOB, DICK, AND TRACY

November 20 in history:

It was a battle of whale vs. ship, and the whale won on this date in 1820.  A sperm whale rammed the whaling ship Essex twice, leaving a hole which forced the crew to abandon ship in the south Pacific.  Author Herman Melville was fascinated by the attack, and partly based his novel Moby-Dick on the real-life story of the Essex.  An abolitionist newspaper called “The National Era” promoted the newly-published Melville book in its issue of November 20th, 1851.

Another fictional character sharing the name “Dick” has been fighting crime in newspaper comics since 1931.  Dick Tracy was created by cartoonist Chester Gould, who drew the strip for almost 50 years.  Gould was born on November 20th, 1900.

This is also the birthday of Dick Smothers, the younger member of the Smothers Brothers comedy team, born in 1939, and “Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” writer Bob Einstein, born November 20th, 1942.  Einstein often appeared on the Smothers Brothers show as a cop who called himself Officer Judy.  He’s best known for his accident-prone stuntman character Super Dave Osborne…and he’s the brother of comedian Albert Brooks.

SMOOTH TALKERS

November 19 in history:

A new national cemetery was consecrated on November 19th, 1863 at the site of the Civil War Battle of Gettysburg.  The event is remembered today because of President Abraham Lincoln’s two-minute address which began “Fourscore and seven years ago…”

The late-’80s musical group Milli Vanilli is remembered today because its two front men, known as Rob and Fab, did not actually use their own voices on their debut album.  The duo announced on November 19th, 1990, that they would give back their Grammy for Best New Artist, awarded nine months earlier.

Two men whose voices and faces became familiar to talk-show fans were born on November 19th.

Comedian Dick Cavett (1936) was given a daytime talk show on ABC in 1968, eventually leading to a late-night show on that network and a series on PBS.  Cavett appeared as himself in two movies that won the Oscar for best picture:  “Annie Hall” (1977) and “Forrest Gump” (1994).

Larry King appeared as himself in many movies during the 25 years he hosted a prime-time talk show on CNN.  King was born on November 19th, 1933…making him exactly five years older than his long-time boss at CNN, Ted Turner.

TIME TO TRAVEL

November 18 in history:

The U.S. was divided into time zones on November 18th, 1883 by the railroad industry.  The move was needed so that trains could have standard arrival and departure times, instead of relying on local times based on the position of the sun.

The railroad tune “On the Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe” from the movie The Harvey Girls was the first song to win an Oscar for lyricist Johnny Mercer, born on this date in 1909.  Mercer also won Academy Awards for two songs written with Henry Mancini, “Days of Wine and Roses” and “Moon River.”

A steamboat trip on a river is the setting for the first official Mickey Mouse cartoon, “Steamboat Willie,” released on November 18th, 1928.  It’s also considered the first successful movie cartoon with sound.

TV BLOOPERS

November 17 in history:

Television history was made on this day in 1968, when a Sunday afternoon game between the New York Jets and Oakland Raiders was running long.  NBC was contracted to broadcast a new version of “Heidi,” sponsored by Timex watches, precisely at 7 p.m. Eastern time that night, whether the game was over or not.  A last-minute network decision to delay “Heidi” until after the game did not get to the right people, and the football broadcast for most of the U.S. was cut off with one minute left to play, and the Jets ahead by three points.  The game ended with two quick touchdowns by the Raiders, who won by a score of 43-32.  The fan uproar that resulted led to the now-common practice of delaying all regular programming on the networks rather than disrupting football games in progress.

President Richard Nixon made history on live television by stating “I’m not a crook” during a broadcast news conference on November 17th, 1973.  The question-and-answer session was part of an Associated Press meeting at Disney World, in the middle of the Watergate scandal.  Nixon made the “crook” remark while telling the reporters that he had never profited from his years of public service.

The Nixon news conference was aired live on network TV on a Saturday night. The producer of “Saturday Night Live,” Lorne Michaels, was born on this day in 1944…the same day and year as frequent SNL host Danny De Vito, known for the TV series “Taxi” and “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.”

TV coverage of a concession speech by Howard Dean has been blamed for costing him the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004.  Dean was portrayed as being too emotional and out of control when he shouted to supporters after losing the Iowa caucuses.  Dean, a former governor of Vermont, was born on November 17th, 1948.

John Boehner has never run for president, but he was third in line for the Oval Office as Speaker of the House. The Ohio Republican was born on this date in 1949.

OOOOOOOK-LAHOMA!

November 16 in history:

On November 16th, 1907, Oklahoma was admitted to the Union.  The U.S. flag would bear 46 stars after that, until New Mexico and Arizona became states in 1912.

The 50th anniversary of Oklahoma’s statehood, on November 16th, 1957, was not a happy day for fans of the Oklahoma Sooners football team.  The Sooners’ 47-game winning streak, dating back to 1953, was ended with a 7-0 loss to Notre Dame.

“Oklahoma!” was the first hit musical written by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II.  Their last show, “The Sound of Music,” opened on Broadway on November 16th, 1959, with Mary Martin as Maria.

Another Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, “Carousel,” was based on a Hungarian play called “Liliom.”  Actor Burgess Meredith played the title role in “Liliom” on Broadway in 1940.  Meredith’s long career included the “Rocky” and “Grumpy Old Men” movies, appearances on “The Twilight Zone,” and the role of the Penguin on “Batman” in the ’60s.  Meredith was born on this date in 1907, the same day Oklahoma became a state.

PUT OUT THE WELCOME MAT

November 15 in history:

Conquistador Francisco Pizarro arrived with his army at Cajamarca, the capital of the Incas, on November 15th, 1532.  Pizarro’s men urged the Incan king Atahualpa to convert to Christianity and pledge allegiance to Spain.  The king refused.  He was captured and his army was attacked.

General William Tecumseh Sherman set fire to Atlanta on this date in 1864, beginning a March to the Sea (the Atlantic) by Union troops.  The burning of Atlanta is a major scene in the movie “Gone with the Wind.”

Another military leader known for his ability to move armies, German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, was born on November 15th, 1891.

Zebulon Pike was an explorer rather than a conqueror.  On this day in 1806, Pike discovered a large mountain in the Rockies which was later named Pike’s Peak.

And for fast-food lovers wanting to know “Where’s the beef?”, their journey often takes them to Wendy’s restaurants.  Dave Thomas opened his first Wendy’s outlet, named after his daughter Melinda (nicknamed “Wendy”), in Columbus, Ohio on November 15th, 1969.