July 12th in history:
On this day in 1862, members of Congress authorized the Medal of Honor to be given by the U.S. Army for acts of valor. More than 3,500 Medals of Honor have been awarded, with nearly half going to people who served in the Civil War. As of 2018, Civil War physician Mary Edwards Walker is the only woman to receive the medal.
Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro made history on this day in 1984, when Walter Mondale announced that she would be his running mate in the presidential election. Ferraro was a former school teacher who became a lawyer and eventually a representative from New York. She became the first woman nominated for vice-president by a major party.
Political activist Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan has traveled the world, advocating education for young girls. Malala, born on this day in 1997, survived being shot in the head during an assassination attempt to stop her campaign to let girls attend school. She received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014, making her, at age 17, the youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate.
The sons and daughters of the King of Siam are taught by governess Anna Leonowens in the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical “The King and I.” Oscar Hammerstein II, born on July 12th, 1895, wrote the book and lyrics to “King and I” and other famous musicals, including “Show Boat,” “The Sound of Music,” and “South Pacific.”
June 3rd in history:
A former king of England walked down the aisle with the former Mrs. Wallis Simpson on June 3rd, 1937. Upon their marriage, they were known as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. The wedding took place on the birthday of the Duke’s late father, King George V (1865).
Ed White became the first American astronaut to walk in space on June 3rd, 1965, during the mission of Gemini 4.
Mighty Casey didn’t get a walk, or a run, in the famous poem “Casey at the Bat” by Ernest Thayer. The poem was first published on June 3rd, 1888, in the San Francisco Examiner.
And a dance number featuring a chorus line of “old ladies” using walkers is a highlight of the stage musical “The Producers,” based on the 1968 Mel Brooks movie. On this date in 2001, the original Broadway version of “The Producers” won a record-setting 12 Tony Awards.
May 5th in history:
Carnegie Hall in New York opened on May 5th, 1891, with a concert conducted by the composer of “The Nutcracker,” Pyotr Tchaikovsky.
The hit musical “Damn Yankees,” about a middle-aged man who becomes a baseball star through a pact with the devil, opened on Broadway on May 5th, 1955.
The first perfect game in modern baseball history occurred on May 5th, 1904, when Cy Young pitched the Boston Americans to a win over the Philadelphia Athletics.
March 31st in history:
The battleship Missouri, where the Japanese surrendered to the U.S. to end World War II, was decommissioned on March 31st, 1992.
President Lyndon Johnson called for peace talks with North Vietnam in a live TV address on this date in 1968. Johnson surprised the nation when he ended his speech that night by declaring he would not seek another term as president.
Johnson’s withdrawal from the ’68 race may have helped Richard Nixon win the election that fall. Nixon’s future son-in-law, David Eisenhower (Ike’s grandson), turned 20 the day of LBJ’s speech. So did future Vice President Al Gore.
Many famous movies about the Vietnam War were not made until years after LBJ and Nixon left office. The Deer Hunter (1978) was the first Vietnam movie to win an Oscar for Best Picture. Christopher Walken, born March 31st, 1943, won the supporting actor Oscar for his role in Deer Hunter. Walken also has appeared in the movie musicals Pennies from Heaven and Hairspray, and as a frequent host of “Saturday Night Live.” He shares a birthday with fellow Oscar winner Shirley Jones (born 1934), best known for musical roles in Oklahoma! and The Music Man, and as singing mom Shirley Partridge on “The Partridge Family.”
Walken’s Deer Hunter co-star Robert De Niro won the Best Actor award for Raging Bull at the Oscars on March 31st, 1981. The ceremony had been delayed by one day because of the assassination attempt against President Reagan.
February 17th in history:
Thomas Jefferson was elected president by the U.S. House on this date in 1801. The House had to break an electoral tie between Jefferson and Aaron Burr. As a result, Burr became vice president.
A helicopter buzzed the White House on February 17th, 1974, during the final months of Richard Nixon’s presidency. The chopper was stolen and flown by a disgruntled Army private named Robert Preston.
Actor Robert Preston was starring in the original Broadway production of “The Music Man” in February of 1958. For those who couldn’t go to Broadway, television was growing in popularity as an entertainment medium. On February 17th, 1958, Pope Pius XII declared St. Clare of Assisi the patron saint of television.
If there were no such thing as TV, there would be no “Larry the Cable Guy.” Larry, known in real life as Dan Whitney, celebrates his birthday on this day (1963).
February 10th in history:
The play “Death of a Salesman” made its Broadway debut on February 10th, 1949, starring Lee J. Cobb as salesman Willy Loman. It has been revived frequently in New York, with later productions starring George C. Scott, Dustin Hoffman, and Philip Seymour Hoffman. “Salesman” won a Pulitzer prize for playwright Arthur Miller, who died on this date in 2005, on the 56th anniversary of the play’s premiere.
Willy Loman dies in a car crash at the end of “Salesman.” Auto safety was the topic on this day in 1966 when attorney and consumer advocate Ralph Nader made his first appearance ever before a Congressional committee. Nader had just published the book “Unsafe at Any Speed,” criticizing a lack of safety features in American-made cars.
A car crash in the desert sets off a wild chase in the 1963 comedy “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.” Jimmy Durante plays the dying driver who tells rescuers about a buried treasure in stolen money. It was the last feature film appearance for Durante, born February 10th, 1893. Durante is also known to modern audiences for singing during the opening credits of “Sleepless in Seattle” and as the narrator of the animated Christmas special “Frosty the Snowman.”
January 20th in history:
John Marshall won a powerful job in the U.S. government on this date in 1801. Marshall was appointed Chief Justice. He led the Supreme Court for 34 years, serving under six presidents.
In 1937, January 20th became Inauguration Day in the U.S., the traditional day for the Chief Justice to swear in the newly-elected president. Before that year, presidents had to wait until March 4th to begin their terms.
England had a new king on January 20th, 1936, when King George the 5th died after a 25-year reign. His oldest son immediately became King Edward the 8th, but he abdicated before the year was done because of the furor over his intent to marry a divorced American woman.
And the artist nicknamed the “Line King,” Al Hirschfeld, died on January 20th, 2003. Hirschfeld was famous for his caricatures of Broadway and Hollywood celebrities. He died five months short of his 100th birthday. Long live the King!