January 18th in history:
Former U.S. President John Tyler died on January 18th, 1862, shortly after being elected to the Confederate Congress. Tyler was the first vice president to succeed a U.S. president who died in office, following the 1841 death of William Henry Harrison.
John Tyler fathered 15 legitimate children by two wives, and was accused of fathering more children in affairs with slaves. A notorious presidential affair was revealed on this date in 1998, when the “Drudge Report” web site said that President Bill Clinton had had an affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Clinton publicly denied the affair at first, but admitted to it months later.
The leading man of the 1957 movie An Affair to Remember, Cary Grant, was born on January 18th, 1904. Grant’s film career lasted from the 1930s to his retirement in the 1960s, and included four Hitchcock movies and four films with Katharine Hepburn.
Hepburn’s 1969 movie The Madwoman of Chaillot was the last feature film for comedian Danny Kaye, born on this day in 1911. Kaye, known for physical humor and fast-talking wordplay, also starred in White Christmas and The Court Jester, as well as a 1960s variety show on CBS.
Danny Kaye was one of the original owners of the Seattle Mariners baseball team. Actor and director Kevin Costner, born January 18th, 1955, had one of his biggest hits as an Iowa farmer who builds a baseball diamond in a cornfield in “Field of Dreams.” Costner also starred in the popular sports movies “Bull Durham” and “Tin Cup,” and the frontier epic “Dances with Wolves,” which earned him Oscars for Best Director and Best Picture
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.
October 2 in history:
“Good ol’ Charlie Brown…How I hate him!” That was the punchline for the first “Peanuts” comic strip that appeared in newspapers on October 2nd, 1950. Charles Schulz wrote and drew the adventures of Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and friends until retiring just before his death 50 years later.
Cartoonist Murat “Chic” Young created the long-running comic strip “Blondie,” and Chick Young was the name of William “Bud” Abbott’s character in the monster movie parody “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.” Abbott was born October 2nd, 1895, exactly five years after the birth of another comedian whose career lasted from vaudeville to TV, Julius “Groucho” Marx.
Sometimes funny, often scary, or just weird. Those words could describe two classic TV anthology shows that both premiered on October 2nd: “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” in 1955, and Rod Serling’s “The Twilight Zone” in 1959.
August 13 in history:
On August 13th, 1889, German Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin received a patent for a “navigable balloon,” which would later become known as a blimp or a “zeppelin.”
Germany was divided into East and West by 1961, and on August 13th of that year, work began on a physical barrier to separate East and West Berlin. The Berlin Wall stood for 28 years until the border between the two halves of the city was opened in 1989.
East Berlin and the Cold War figured into the plot of the 1966 movie “Torn Curtain,” the 50th film directed by “master of suspense” Alfred Hitchcock, born on this date in 1899. Hitchcock’s 51st movie was another Cold War thriller called “Topaz,” set partly in Communist Cuba. That movie featured a cameo appearance, through archival footage, of Cuban premier Fidel Castro, born August 13th, 1926.
In Hitchcock’s film “North By Northwest,” Cary Grant is mistaken for a spy who doesn’t really exist. The phony spy was invented to keep a female agent’s cover from being blown. The cover of real-life CIA agent Valerie Plame was blown by a newspaper columnist in a public scandal during the George W. Bush administration. Plame was born on August 13th, 1963.