March 8th in history:
Two U.S. presidents died on March 8th: Millard Fillmore in 1874, and William Howard Taft in 1930. Fillmore was not nominated for a second term by the Whigs in 1852, and finished third in the electoral vote in the 1856 election. Taft came in third in his 1912 re-election bid, behind Woodrow Wilson and Teddy Roosevelt. Taft served as Chief Justice for nine years, and retired just weeks before his death.
Charles De Gaulle was still president of France when construction began on an airport near Paris that would be named after him. De Gaulle International Airport opened eight years later, on this date in 1974.
Arthur Dent began his travels through the universe when the first episode of the radio show “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” was broadcast on the BBC on this date in 1978.
And March 8th is the birthday of the “Skipper” who led the S.S. Minnow on an infamous “three-hour tour.” Alan Hale of “Gilligan’s Island” was born on this date in 1921.
In its final season, “Gilligan’s Island” aired Monday nights on CBS, opposite “The Monkees” on NBC. Monkees singer and drummer Micky Dolenz was born March 8th, 1945.
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 2 in history:
Commercial radio in the U.S. was launched on November 2nd, 1920, an election night. Station KDKA went on the air in Pittsburgh to broadcast returns from the presidential race between James Cox and Warren G. Harding. Harding was elected on his 55th birthday.
On another election day, November 2nd, 1976, the major U.S. TV networks began the tradition of using large red-white-and-blue maps to show which party has won which states in a presidential race. It wasn’t until the 2000 election between George W. Bush and Al Gore that the media generally adopted the code of “blue” for Democrats and “red” for Republicans, reportedly popularized by NBC’s Tim Russert.
George W. was a third-generation cheerleader at Yale, and also led cheers at the Andover prep school. Modern cheerleading was invented at a University of Minnesota football game on November 2nd, 1898. Minnesota student Johnny Campbell was among a group of young men who usually started specific cheers in the stands. On that particular day, Campbell stood up in front of the home crowd and taught them cheers by shouting through a megaphone.
October 5 in history:
The city of Anaheim, California, was founded in 1857. It would become the site of Disneyland, and the home of the Angels baseball team, which won the World Series in 2002.
Another nearby franchise, the San Diego Padres, has played in the World Series twice without winning. The first time was 1984, the same year Padres owner Ray Kroc died. Kroc, who earned a fortune after buying the McDonald’s hamburger business from brothers Maurice and Richard McDonald, was born October 5th, 1902.
Another popular comedy team made its debut on October 5th, 1969, when the first episode of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” was aired on the BBC.
John Cleese of “Monty Python” has appeared as spy gadget expert Q (or R) in two James Bond films. The very first 007 film, “Dr. No,” premiered in London on October 5th, 1962. This is also the birthday of Donald Pleasence (born 1919), who played the villain Blofeld in “You Only Live Twice”…used as an inspiration for Dr. Evil in the “Austin Powers” spy comedies.