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.
July 26 in history:
The first launch of a space shuttle since the Columbia disaster of 2003 happened on July 26th, 2005. It was the first time that the shuttle Discovery had flown in almost four years.
The fourth manned landing on the moon occurred during the Apollo 15 mission, which launched on this date in 1971. Astronauts James Irwin and David Scott were the first ones to use a “moon rover” vehicle during this mission.
The Oscar-winning song “Moon River” comes from the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s, directed by Blake Edwards, born on July 26th, 1922. Also born on the same date that year was Jason Robards, one of four Academy Award winning actors or actresses who share this birthday. The others are Helen Mirren (1945), Kevin Spacey (1959), and Sandra Bullock (1964).
Director Stanley Kubrick also was born on July 26th (1928). Kubrick got four Oscar nominations for best director during his career, for films including “Dr. Strangelove,” “A Clockwork Orange,” and “Barry Lyndon.” But his only personal Oscar win was for special visual effects in the 1968 epic “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
Before she became successful in movies, Sandra Bullock starred in a TV sitcom based on the film comedy “Working Girl.” Three famous sitcom wives of the 1950’s had July 26th birthdays: Gracie Allen (born 1895), Vivian Vance (1909), alias Ethel Mertz of “I Love Lucy,” and Marjorie Lord (1918), Kathy Williams on “The Danny Thomas Show.”
June 22nd in history:
A deadly train wreck occurred near Hammond, Indiana, on June 22nd, 1918. The engineer of one train reportedly fell asleep and was unable to stop his train from striking the rear of a circus train on the same track. The wooden cars on the circus train caught fire quickly, and 86 people died. The engineer blamed for the accident was hanged a few days later for causing the disaster.
Hanging was the method of execution in Canada, until that country abolished capital punishment. The Canadian House of Commons voted on June 22nd, 1976, to end the death penalty.
The actor who played Canadian Mounted Police Inspector Fenwick in the “Dudley Do-Right” cartoons, Paul Frees, was born on this date in 1920. Frees also was famous for providing the accents of animated characters such as Professor Ludwig Von Drake and Boris Badenov.
June 22nd is also the birthday of another performer skilled at accents…three-time Oscar winner Meryl Streep (1949). Streep used foreign accents in two of her award-winning roles…as the Polish heroine of “Sophie’s Choice,” and as British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady.”
May 16th in history:
“The bells, bells, bells, bells…”
Wedding bells for author Edgar Allan Poe and his cousin, Virginia Clemm, on May 16th, 1836. Edgar was 27, Virginia was 13. Some sources claim that the two had been married secretly for almost a year.
Did they eat cake at this wedding? Fourteen-year-old Marie Antoinette married 15-year-old French Prince Louis-Auguste (who became King Louis XVI) on May 16th, 1770. One legend about Marie Antoinette is that Mozart said he wanted to marry her, when they met as young children.
Another flamboyant musician (one who didn’t marry) was born on this date in 1919 – the man with the candelabra on his piano, Liberace.
Actress Norma Shearer received an Oscar nomination in 1938 for playing Marie Antoinette. Shearer didn’t win that year, but she was named Best Actress for “The Divorcee” at the 3rd Academy Awards, in 1930. The very first Oscar ceremony happened on May 16th, 1929, at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. “Wings” was the first winner for Best Picture.
April 23rd in history:
April 23rd is believed to be William Shakespeare’s birthday, in 1564. It is also the date when Shakespeare died in 1616 – and the date when his play “The Merry Wives of Windsor” opened in 1597, with Queen Elizabeth in the audience.
Both Shakespeare and Elizabeth are key characters in “Shakespeare in Love,” the movie which won the Oscar for Best Picture of 1998. The Best Picture of 2008, “Slumdog Millionaire,” stars actor Dev Patel, born April 23rd, 1990, as a game-show contestant.
A favorite beverage at movie theaters and elsewhere went through a radical change on April 23rd, 1985. The Coca-Cola Company announced it was changing the formula of Coke, replacing it with “New Coke.” After massive protests, the original formula was re-introduced less than three months later.
April 14th in history:
President Abraham Lincoln was seeing the play “Our American Cousin” at Ford’s Theater in Washington when he was shot on April 14th, 1865.
On this date in 1894, Thomas Edison demonstrated a form of moving-picture show called a “kinetoscope,” consisting of still images viewed in quick succession (better known as a “peep show”).
Two-inch videotape was demonstrated in public for the first time on April 14th, 1956, at a broadcasters’ convention in Chicago.
A rare moment at the Academy Awards show on April 14th, 1969 – a tie for Best Actress. Katharine Hepburn wins her third Oscar, for “The Lion in Winter,” and Barbra Streisand gets her first, for “Funny Girl.”
Several Oscar winners share an April 14th birthday: John Gielgud (1904), Rod Steiger (1925), Julie Christie (1941) and Adrien Brody (1973).
Philip Seymour Hoffman was an Oscar winner for the title role in the 2005 movie “Capote.” The climax of that film shows Truman Capote attending the execution of Perry Smith and Richard Hickock for the Clutter family murders detailed in Capote’s novel “In Cold Blood.” The double execution took place in Lansing, Kansas, on this date in 1965.
April 13th in history:
Firsts for African-Americans on April 13th …
Sidney Poitier became the first black man to win an Oscar for acting on April 13th, 1964. Poitier was named Best Actor for “Lilies of the Field.”
On April 13th, 1983, Harold Washington was elected the first black mayor of Chicago.
And Tiger Woods became the first black champion of the Masters golf tournament (and the youngest winner, at age 21) on this date in 1997.