December 19 in history:
Bill Clinton became the second U.S. president to be impeached, when the House approved impeachment charges against him on December 19th, 1998, halfway through his second term. Clinton was impeached for perjury and obstruction of justice, for lying about his relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. The scandal threatened to sink the Clinton presidency, but Clinton was acquitted by the Senate and finished his term.
A romantic epic about a famous ocean liner that sank in 1912 opened in movie theaters on this day in 1997. The James Cameron film Titanic, starring Leonardo Di Caprio and Kate Winslet, tied the record 11 Oscars won in 1959 by Ben-Hur. Titanic also set box office records which were broken a decade later by another Cameron movie, Avatar.
Unlike the Titanic, three ships that left England for America on December 19th, 1606, did reach their destination. The ships brought more than 100 settlers to the Virginia colony, where they established the community of Jamestown.
The city of Jamestown, New York, has a museum dedicated to hometown celebrity Lucille Ball and her first husband, Desi Arnaz, who were married for 20 years. Lucy’s second marriage, to comedian Gary Morton, lasted 28 years until her death. Morton, who produced Lucy’s TV series after “I Love Lucy,” was born on this date in 1924. It’s also the birthday of actress Elaine Joyce (1945), known for many television appearances and stage shows including the musical “Sugar.” Like Morton, Joyce also is famous as the spouse of a comedy legend, playwright Neil Simon.
Before becoming a playwright, Neil Simon wrote for popular TV variety series including “Your Show of Shows” with Sid Caesar, and “The Garry Moore Show.” On this date in 1961, the Moore show featured Julie Andrews singing “My Favorite Things,” perhaps one of the earliest times that the song from “The Sound of Music” became associated with the Christmas season. Andrews did not appear in the original Broadway production of “Sound of Music,” and did not make the movie until three years after the Garry Moore Christmas show.
December 18 in history:
The President of the United States got married on December 18th, 1915. Woodrow Wilson’s first wife, Ellen, died a year after moving into the White House. Widower Wilson met widow Edith Bolling Galt in 1915, and they wed just nine months later. Edith Wilson is sometimes considered America’s first female president, for assuming some duties of the presidency after Wilson had a stroke during his second term.
At the time of President Wilson’s second wedding, he was about to run for a second term using the slogan “He kept us out of war.” The First World War began in 1914, in response to the assassination of an Austrian archduke and his wife. That archduke, Franz Ferdinand, was born on this day in 1863. Future Soviet leader Joseph Stalin also was born December 18th, in 1878. Stalin was not allowed to serve in WWI because of a bad arm.
In the 2008 movie “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” the title character, who ages in reverse, is born on the last day of World War I. Button is played by Brad Pitt, born December 18th, 1963. Pitt also has starred in “Moneyball,” “Fight Club,” and “Ocean’s Eleven,” and is known for his marriages to Jennifer Aniston and Angelina Jolie.
The WWI drama “War Horse” earned a Best Picture Oscar nomination for its producer and director Steven Spielberg, born December 18th, 1946. Spielberg has won two Oscars as a director, for two films about World War II, “Schindler’s List” and “Saving Private Ryan.” He’s also had big hits with “Jaws,” “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,” and the Indiana Jones franchise.
December 17 in history:
The Wright Brothers earned their wings on December 17th, 1903, by successfully flying an airplane at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. That was the day Orville Wright made the first powered flight of a plane, going 120 feet in 12 seconds. Later in the day, brother Wilbur kept the plane in the air for about a minute.
Other flying objects were the focus of Project Blue Book. But the U.S. Air Force officially closed the book on UFO investigations on December 17th, 1969. In nearly two decades, the government collected nearly 13,000 reports of unidentified flying objects. Most of the reports were explained easily, but of the objects that remained “unidentified,” the Air Force said it found no proof that any of them was an alien spacecraft.
On the same day that Project Blue Book was declared to be over, there was an unusual nighttime sighting all across America, on TV screens. More than 20 million Americans watched long-haired, falsetto-voiced singer Tiny Tim become a married man on “The Tonight Show.” Host Johnny Carson had invited Tim (real name, Herbert Khaury) to wed his teenage fiancee Victoria Budinger, alias “Miss Vicki,” on the December 17th broadcast in ’69.
“If TV has taught me anything, it’s that miracles always happen to poor kids at Christmas.” That wasn’t said by Tiny Tim from “A Christmas Carol,” but by another fictional child: Bart Simpson. It’s a quote from the very first half-hour episode of “The Simpsons,” aired on December 17th, 1989: a holiday story called “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire.” Bart, Homer, Marge, Lisa, and Maggie originated as characters in short films by cartoonist Matt Groening featured on “The Tracey Ullman Show.” “The Simpsons” is now the longest-running American sitcom and the longest-running American animated program.
December 16 in history:
America’s original “tea party” protest happened on December 16th, 1773, when dozens of colonists boarded three ships in Boston Harbor and dumped over 300 chests of tea into the water. The Boston Tea Party was a rebellion against British tax laws imposed on the American colonies.
There is disagreement about whether the tea thrown into the harbor was from China or India. Science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke wrote books about the Indian Ocean, and lived for decades on the island of Sri Lanka. Clarke, born on this date in 1917, is best known for collaborating with Stanley Kubrick on the screenplay of “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
Much of the music in “2001” was written by classical composers Richard and Johann Strauss. In Kubrick’s next film, “A Clockwork Orange,” the main character’s favorite composer is Ludwig von Beethoven, known for his nine symphonies. As fans of the “Peanuts” comic strip know, Beethoven’s birthday is celebrated on December 16th. He was born in Bonn, Germany, in 1770.
December 15 in history:
The first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights, took effect on December 15th, 1791 when they were ratified by the Virginia legislature.
The 21st Amendment, ending 13 years of Prohibition, took effect on this date in 1933, 10 days after it was adopted. Many Americans did not wait until the 15th before openly drinking alcohol again.
Government work to enforce Prohibition inspired the TV series “The Untouchables.” You could call “Miami Vice” a similar show, about cops fighting the drug trade in the 1980s. “Miami Vice” star Don Johnson was born December 15th, 1949.
New York dairy farmer Max Yasgur said he didn’t like the drugs and “free love” associated with the hippie culture. But Yasgur, born December 15th, 1919, said young people should have the freedom to hold a music festival on his property. The Woodstock festival drew half-a-million people to Yasgur’s farm in August, 1969.
December 14 in history:
The last of the Apollo astronauts to walk on the moon blasted off from the lunar surface on December 14th, 1972. Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt completed three walks outside the lunar lander during the 75 hours they spent on the moon as part of the Apollo 17 mission.
The Saturn rockets that launched men to the moon were developed at the Marshall Space Flight Center near Huntsville, Alabama. On this date in 1819, Alabama became the 22nd state to join the Union.
The Alabama state quarter issued by the U.S. Mint in 2003 features a portrait of author Helen Keller on the tail side. Actress Patty Duke, born Anna Marie Duke on December 14th, 1946, won an Oscar at age 16 for recreating her stage role as blind and deaf Helen in the movie, “The Miracle Worker.” She later starred as “identical cousins” on “The Patty Duke Show.” Prior to her death in 2016, Duke wrote and spoke widely about her experience with bipolar disorder.
Patty Duke played Martha Washington in the 1984 TV miniseries “George Washington.” On December 14th, 1799, George Washington died at his Virginia estate, Mount Vernon. Medical experts know that Washington had soreness and swelling in the throat, but some believe the doctors’ practice of bleeding hastened his death.
Another famous George who died on this date was Notre Dame football star George Gipp. He was 25 when he died on December 14th, 1920, apparently from a throat infection. Future U.S. president Ronald Reagan played Gipp in the 1940 movie “Knute Rockne, All American,” in which the character urged Coach Rockne to “win one for the Gipper.”
December 13 in history:
When Francis Drake sailed from Plymouth, England, on December 13th, 1577, it was the beginning of a three-year trip around the world. One of the main purposes of Drake’s voyage was to explore the Pacific coast of the Americas, and to raid Spanish settlements along the ocean.
A crew led by Dutch explorer Abel Tasman became the first Europeans to see New Zealand on this date in 1642. Tasman briefly stopped on the South Island, but when some of his crewmen were killed in a confrontation with the Maori natives, the ship quickly moved on.
A Navy pilot is stranded on an island in “Lt. Robin Crusoe, U.S.N,” one of a series of Disney movies in the 1960s that starred Dick Van Dyke, born December 13th, 1925. Besides having TV success on “The Dick Van Dyke Show” in the ’60s and “Diagnosis: Murder” in the ’90s, Van Dyke also had several hit movies including “Bye Bye Birdie,” “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” and Disney’s “Mary Poppins” with Julie Andrews.
A year after “Mary Poppins,” Andrews starred in “The Sound of Music” with another actor born on December 13th, Christopher Plummer (1929). Plummer’s other movies include “The Insider,” “Up,” and “Beginners,” for which he won an Oscar at age 82.
Julie Andrews has done three TV specials with Carol Burnett. They aired in the U.S. in 1962, 1971…and on December 13th, 1989, the day that singer Taylor Swift was born. Swift acted in young people’s theater productions (once playing Maria in “Sound of Music”) before launching a country music career as a teenager. Swift has won more than 200 awards for her country and pop recordings, including seven Grammys before the age of 25.