December 31 in history:
The days of traditional street lamps were numbered after December 31st, 1879, when Thomas Edison demonstrated incandescent street lamps in Menlo Park, New Jersey.
A crystal ball with electric lights was used to count down to the new year in Manhattan’s Times Square for the first time on December 31st, 1907. Fireworks had been used for a few years before they got the idea of “dropping the ball” to mark the stroke of midnight.
England actually does “ring in” a new year by airing the midnight chimes of the bell “Big Ben” over BBC Radio. That broadcasting tradition was born on New Year’s Eve of 1923.
Another famous “Ben” from England was born on December 31st, 1943: actor Ben Kingsley, whose birth name was Krishna Bhanji. Kingsley won an Oscar for playing the title role in Gandhi, and he’s been featured in Schindler’s List and Bugsy.
Sir Ben Kingsley shares a New Year’s Eve birthday with Sir Anthony Hopkins (born 1937), best known for winning the Oscar as Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs. Hopkins also has played real people from Hitler to Hitchcock, and Nixon to John Quincy Adams. Hopkins and Kingsley were among five Oscar winners who jointly honored the Best Actor nominees at the Academy Awards in February of 2009.
The Best Actor winner from 1944, Bing Crosby, became the first singer to perform the song “Cabaret” on U.S. network television, on the New Year’s Eve 1966 broadcast of “The Hollywood Palace” on ABC. The title song from the popular Kander and Ebb musical included special lyrics written for the occasion:
“We’ll pop the cork, and toast the year
At 12 o’clock, start celebratin’
Nineteen sixty-seven’s waitin.'”
A New Year’s themed episode of the “M*A*S*H” TV series from December of 1980 condenses an entire year of the Korean War for the 4077th into a single half-hour. Two stars of the series died on New Year’s Eve in consecutive years. Wayne Rogers (born 1933), who played “Trapper John” McIntyre, died December 31st, 2015…and one year later, William Christopher (born 1932), who portrayed Father Mulcahy, passed away on New Year’s Eve.
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.
October 3 in history:
The popular “Siegfried and Roy” magic act at the Mirage in Las Vegas was disrupted on October 3rd, 2003, when one of the duo’s famous tigers bit Roy Horn in the neck. The attack effectively brought an end to the long-running act, although Siegfried and Roy did comeback performances a few years later. The tiger attack happened on Roy’s 59th birthday.
A mouse and a “kangaroo” both began long-running children’s shows on TV on October 3rd, 1955. The mouse was Mickey Mouse, cartoon star of the original “Mickey Mouse Club” on ABC, featuring the Mouseketeers, talented kids wearing sweaters and mouse ears. Same day, different network: “Captain Kangaroo” made his debut on CBS. Bob Keeshan played the Captain as a grandfatherly host with a big mustache and deep-pocketed jackets. He had a number of “animal” co-stars, including Dancing Bear and the puppets Bunny Rabbit and Mr. Moose.
“Buffalo wings” were invented on this day in 1964. That is, a special recipe for chicken wings coated with cayenne pepper sauce, created at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, N.Y.
The Buffalo Bills football team featured Heisman winner O.J. Simpson on their roster for nine seasons. Millions tuned in to live TV on this day in 1995 to see Simpson acquitted in the murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. On the same date 13 years later, Simpson was found guilty in a kidnapping and armed robbery case in Nevada. He served nine years in prison in that case, and was released in 2017, just days before the October 3rd anniversary of both verdicts.
September 25 in history:
On September 25th, 1513, explorer Vasco Nunez de Balboa became the first European to see the Pacific Ocean from the east, while traveling on the Isthmus of Panama. Balboa claimed the ocean for the king and queen of Spain.
On this date in 1981, Sandra Day O’Connor took office as the first female justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.
ABC was the first U.S. network to hire a woman to anchor the evening news, when it teamed Barbara Walters with Harry Reasoner in 1976. Walters was born on September 25th, 1929.
And the first weekly TV cartoon show about living celebrities debuted on ABC on September 25th, 1965. On “The Beatles” series, the animated adventures portrayed the band members as they looked in 1965. But during the four years that “The Beatles” aired on network TV, the show did take note of the band’s changes in appearance and musical styles.
July 10th in history:
There was no such thing as a communications satellite until July 10th, 1962, when the first Telstar was sent into orbit. On that same day in ’62, President Kennedy signed a bill called the All-Channel Receiver Act, requiring new TV sets in the U.S. to carry UHF signals beyond VHF Channel 13.
Satellite technology helped make TV programs like “ABC World News Tonight” possible. That newscast debuted on July 10th, 1978, officially replacing the anchor team of Harry Reasoner and Barbara Walters. Three men – Frank Reynolds, Max Robinson and Peter Jennings – anchored the program from three different cities.
ABC’s new newscast began on the 58th birthday of competitor David Brinkley, who was then co-anchor of “NBC Nightly News”. Three years later, Brinkley moved to ABC.
April 12th in history:
A man moved around the Earth in a space capsule for the first time on April 12th, 1961, when cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was launched into orbit.
Two accidents involving Soviet submarines have happened on April 12th. In 1970, the submarine K-8 sank while being towed in the North Atlantic after a fire. Fifty-two men died when the sub went down with nuclear torpedoes aboard. On April 12th of 1963, the nuclear sub K-33 collided with a Finnish merchant ship. The accident was kept a secret for 44 years.
“The Hunt for Red October,” partly set aboard a Soviet sub, was the first successful novel by author Tom Clancy, born on this date in 1947.
Clancy once appeared as a guest on NBC’s “Late Night” show, but not during David Letterman’s time as the show’s host. Letterman was born the same day and year as Clancy. He was the original host of “Late Night,” from 1982 until 1993, when he moved to CBS and renamed his program “The Late Show.” Letterman retired from the show in 2015, and was succeeded by Stephen Colbert.
Yet another man born on April 12th, 1947, is actor Dan Lauria, who played Jack Arnold, Kevin’s dad, on “The Wonder Years.” Letterman left NBC the same year that “The Wonder Years” ended its run on ABC.
February 8th in history:
The U.S. has had three vice-presidents named Johnson. The first one was Richard Johnson, who served under President Martin Van Buren. Johnson was chosen for VP by the Senate on February 8th, 1837, when no candidate could get a majority in the Electoral College.
Lyndon Johnson was vice-president in the summer of 1963, when Ted Koppel began his journalism career as the youngest reporter ever hired by ABC Radio. Koppel was only 23 — born on February 8th, 1940.
Koppel was anchoring the late-night news show “Nightline” in 1984, the year actress Cecily Strong was born on this date. At the time of her birth, Strong’s father was head of the Associated Press Capitol bureau in Springfield, Illinois. Cecily co-anchored “Weekend Update” on “Saturday Night Live” for one season, and emceed the 2015 White House Correspondents Dinner. She’s well-known for her SNL impersonation of First Lady Melania Trump, and her character “The Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started a Conversation With at a Party.”
Actor Jack Lemmon played Chicago newspaper reporter Hildy Johnson in the 1974 movie remake of the play “The Front Page.” Lemmon was born on this day in 1925. He won Oscars for “Mister Roberts” and “Save the Tiger,” and is also known for his roles in “Some Like It Hot,” “Days of Wine and Roses,” and several movies with “Front Page” co-star Walter Matthau.
A session of the U.S. Senate was broadcast for the first time on the radio, on February 8th, 1978, during debate on a Panama Canal treaty. And radio made its way into the White House for the first time on this day in 1922, when President Warren Harding brought the new invention into the mansion.