February 26th in history:
On February 26th, 1815, Napoleon Bonaparte escaped from exile on the island of Elba, off the coast of Italy. He soon returned to power in France before being defeated at Waterloo that same year.
Napoleon sold the Louisiana territory to the United States in 1803. Louisiana became the home of Dixieland music, and on this date in 1917, the Original Dixieland Jass Band made the first jazz recording for the Victor Company.
Musician Fats Domino, a New Orleans native, was born on February 26th, 1928. It’s also the birthday of Minnesota Fats from the movie The Hustler, Jackie Gleason (born 1916). Gleason’s most popular character was Brooklyn bus driver Ralph Kramden from “The Honeymooners.”
Jackie Gleason starred in the movie Gigot as a Frenchman who could not speak. French actor Jean Dujardin won the Best Actor Oscar on February 26th, 2012, for playing a star of silent films in the mostly-silent film The Artist. The French movie, shot in Hollywood, also won the Oscar for Best Picture.
February 24th in history:
There was celebration in England on this date in 1981, as 32-year-old Prince Charles announced his engagement to 19-year-old Lady Diana Spencer. The royal wedding happened that July, making Diana the Princess of Wales.
The duties of many festival princesses include riding on floats in a parade. There were no floats in U.S. parades until February 24th, 1868, when a float was introduced at a Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans.
Mardi Gras is celebrated on the day before the start of Lent. The Gregorian calendar, announced on February 24th, 1582, made changes in how the dates of Lent and Easter are determined every year. The calendar also declared that some years ending in “00” would not be leap years.
French actress Emmanuelle Riva saw 22 leap years come and go before she received an Oscar nomination for the film “Amour.” Riva celebrated her 86th birthday at the Oscar ceremony on this date in 2013, but lost the Best Actress award to 22-year-old Jennifer Lawrence.
February 19th in history:
Space travelers from Russia and other countries rode aboard the Mir Space Station during its 15 years in Earth orbit. The Mir successfully went into orbit on February 19th, 1986.
On this day in 1988, athletes were competing at the Winter Olympics in Calgary. One of the most memorable athletes at Calgary was British ski-jumper Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards. Heavier than his opponents and requiring glasses, Eddie won a cult following even though he rode his skis to last-place finishes in both his events.
Eddie Arcaro was born February 19th, 1916. Arcaro won almost 4,800 horse races in his career as a jockey, including two Triple Crowns.
Actor Lee Marvin also had success riding a horse. Marvin, born February 19th, 1924, won the Best Actor Oscar in 1965 for playing the drunken gunfighter Kid Shaleen in “Cat Ballou.”
February 9th in history:
It took 100 years after the adoption of the U.S. Constitution for the agriculture secretary to become a member of the president’s cabinet. On February 9th, 1889, President Cleveland signed a bill to make the USDA an official Cabinet department.
By the time the Ag Department joined the Cabinet, Hawaii was already importing migrant workers from Japan to work on sugar plantations. The first legal Japanese immigrants arrived in Hawaii for the first time on this date in 1885. Illegal immigrants had traveled to the islands for about 20 years before that, but the government of Japan did not approve of their immigration until the 1880s.
In 1942, America was at war with the Land of the Rising Sun because of the invasion of Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. To help industry meet supply demands for wartime, the U.S. began year-round daylight saving time on February 9th, 1942, and kept it in effect until the end of the war.
And February 9th is a “Day/Light” birthday for two TV stars…Charlie Day (born 1976), from “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” and Judith Light (1949), from “Who’s the Boss?” and “Ugly Betty.”
January 14th in history:
The name “Casablanca” made headlines when U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill met in the Moroccan city for a war conference, beginning January 14th, 1943. The two Allied leaders spent nearly two weeks planning European strategy against Italy and Nazi Germany.
The Casablanca meeting coincided with the general release of the movie “Casablanca,” starring Humphrey Bogart. Bogie died of cancer on January 14th, 1957 — just five years after winning his only Oscar for “The African Queen.”
Twenty years later, actor Peter Finch died on January 14th, 1977. Finch would win a posthumous Oscar as Best Actor that year for his role as mad anchorman Howard Beale in “Network.” Finch died on the 36th birthday of his “Network” co-star Faye Dunaway (1941), who won the Best Actress Oscar for that movie. The two had no scenes together in “Network.”
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.'”
Other “Hollywood Palace” guests that December 31st included the Mills Brothers, known for their hit song “Cab Driver,” and the comedy team of Burns and Schreiber, known for their routine about a cab driver and a talkative passenger.
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.