March 28th in history:
On March 28th, 1854, Britain and France declared war on Russia, bringing those countries into the Crimean War. The largest numbers of troops fighting the war came from Russia, France, Britain, and Turkey.
On this day in 1930, the city of Constantinople was given the more Turkish name Istanbul. The change inspired a popular song, “Istanbul (Not Constantinople),” which was a hit for the Four Lads in 1953 and later covered by They Might Be Giants.
The 1964 heist movie Topkapi is set in Istanbul. British actor Peter Ustinov won his second Supporting Actor Oscar for Topkapi (his first Oscar was for Spartacus). Ustinov, also known as an author and playwright, was 82 when he died on this date in 2004.
Ustinov was born Peter Alexander von Ustinov (or Ustinow). The singer born Stephani Germanotta, now known as Lady Gaga, was born this day in 1986, and is known for hits such as “Poker Face” and “Born This Way.” And popular radio DJ John Records Landecker really was born that way, with the middle name “Records,” on March 28th, 1947. Landecker is best known for working at Chicago station WLS in the ’70s and ’80s.
February 20th in history:
Congress was ready to end Prohibition in 1933. On February 20th of that year, members of Congress proposed the 21st Amendment, to repeal the 18th Amendment that banned liquor in the U.S. and led to the rise of gangsters such as Al Capone.
Chicago lawyer Edward Joseph O’Hare helped send Capone to prison. O’Hare’s son, Edward “Butch” O’Hare, became the first American flying ace of World War II on February 20th, 1942, by shooting down Japanese bombers over the Pacific. Chicago’s O’Hare Airport is named after Butch.
Twenty years later, on February 20th, 1962, John Glenn became a different type of flying ace. That was the day Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth in the Mercury capsule Friendship 7.
February 20th is also the birthday of some performers who have played high-flying characters:
Actress Sandy Duncan (born 1946) has played Peter Pan frequently on stage;
Comedian Joel Hodgson (1960) was stuck on a spaceship, watching bad movies with two wise-cracking robots, on the TV series “Mystery Science Theater 3000”;
And French Stewart (1964) was part of a “family” of space aliens posing as humans on the sitcom “3rd Rock from the Sun.”
February 18th in history:
Actress Molly Ringwald was born February 18th, 1968. On that same day, a Chicago-area high school student named John Hughes had 18 candles on his birthday cake. Hughes became a popular movie director and featured Ringwald in three hit films, including “Sixteen Candles” and “The Breakfast Club.” Most of Hughes’ movies are set in and around Chicago.
The Chicago 7 were acquitted on this day in 1970. The seven anti-war protesters had been tried for conspiring to incite riots during the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago.
On February 18th, 1856, the Know-Nothing Party nominated its first and only presidential candidate, former president Millard Fillmore. He carried only the state of Maryland in the November election.
February 14th in history:
James K. Polk posed for photographer Mathew Brady on February 14th, 1849, less than a month before leaving the White House. It appears to be the first time that an incumbent U.S. president posed for a solo photograph. President Polk had been photographed earlier in his term, in a group shot with members of his cabinet.
Television cameras came to the White House on Valentine’s Day, 1962, for a prime-time tour of the mansion, hosted by First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. The tour was shown on all three major networks.
George Washington never slept in the White House, but George Washington Slept Here was the name of a popular movie starring comedian Jack Benny, born February 14th, 1894. Benny had a weekly show on radio, and then TV, for over 30 years, built around his character of a cheapskate who played the violin badly and always claimed to be 39 years old. Benny’s hometown of Waukegan, Illinois, named a school after him in the 1960s. The sports teams at Benny Middle School are nicknamed the 39ers.
Jack Benny was born in Chicago, not Waukegan. On his 35th birthday in 1929, seven men were shot to death in a Chicago garage, in what became known as the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, the most famous gangster-related murders of the 1920s. The victims were associated with the “Bugs” Moran gang in Chicago. Rival gang leader Al Capone was blamed for the killings. In the 1959 comedy Some Like It Hot, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon escape Chicago by posing as women after witnessing the Massacre.
December 30 in history:
The deadliest theatre fire in U.S. history took more than 600 lives at the Iriquois Theatre in Chicago on December 30th, 1903. Nearly two thousand people were attending a matinee in the reportedly “fireproof” building which had just opened a month earlier. A piece of drapery had been ignited by a stage light, and flames spread toward the ceiling above the stage. Many of the victims died in a rush toward exits which were locked, while other exits were not clearly marked.
A history-making musical opened at the New Century Theatre in New York on December 30th, 1948. Kiss Me, Kate, Cole Porter’s version of The Taming of the Shrew, became the first show to win a Tony Award for Best Musical.
The musical Oliver! was up for nine Tony Awards in 1963, including a nomination for Davy Jones as the Artful Dodger. A few years later, Jones was a star of TV and records, as one member of the made-for-TV band, the Monkees. He was born on December 30th, 1945…three years to the day after the birth of fellow Monkee Michael Nesmith.
On this date in 1966, The Monkees’ recording of “I’m a Believer” by Neil Diamond was the number-one song on the Billboard chart.
December 9 in history:
“If Illinois isn’t the most corrupt state in the United States, it’s one hell of a competitor.” That’s what an FBI special agent said on December 9th, 2008…the day Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich was arrested on a charge of trying to “sell” the U.S. Senate seat left vacant when Barack Obama was elected president. Agents arrested Blagojevich on the day before his 52nd birthday. The following month, Blagojevich was impeached for misconduct and removed from office by the Illinois legislature. He was convicted of more than a dozen crimes, and began a 14-year prison term in March of 2012.
Blagojevich represented Chicago in the legislature and Congress. A team called the Hustle represented Chicago in the Women’s Professional Basketball League, which played its first game on this date in 1978 in Milwaukee. The Hustle won that inaugural game, 92-87, against the host team, the Milwaukee Does.
A Broadway-bound production of “Death of a Salesman,” about over-the-hill hustling salesman Willy Loman, played in Chicago in 1984. It starred Dustin Hoffman as Willy, and John Malkovich of Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre as his son Biff. Malkovich was born December 9th, 1953. Also in 1984, Malkovich appeared in the movies “Places in the Heart” and “The Killing Fields,” and he later played himself in the comedy “Being John Malkovich.”
Malkovich portrayed Tom Wingfield in a 1987 movie version of the Tennessee Williams play “The Glass Menagerie.” A 1950 film of “Menagerie” featured a young Kirk Douglas as the other male character in the story, Jim O’Connor, the “Gentleman Caller.” Douglas was born Issur Danielovitch, and turns 100 today. His famous movie characters include Vincent Van Gogh in “Lust for Life,” and the title role in “Spartacus.”
October 21 in history:
On October 21st, 1520, Ferdinand Magellan and his crew discovered the strait at the tip of South America which would later bear his name. The strait was the connection which took them from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
Another famous ocean explorer was remembered on this date in 1892, when the Columbian Exposition was dedicated in Chicago. The fair designed to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s arrival in the New World actually opened in May of 1893. New products and inventions introduced at the fair included the Ferris Wheel, Cream of Wheat cereal, and Juicy Fruit gum.
October 21st was the day in 1797 that the U.S.S. Constitution, “Old Ironsides,” was launched. The ship (pictured), docked in Boston, is still maintained as an active Navy vessel.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge began writing his epic poem about the sea, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” in 1797. Coleridge was born October 21st, 1772.