July 6th in history:
One of the worst circus fires in U.S. history occurred on July 6th, 1944, in Hartford, Connecticut. More than 160 people died and hundreds more were injured when the Ringling Brothers big top caught fire and collapsed within minutes. Two young people who survived the Hartford fire and later became famous were actor Charles Nelson Reilly and drummer Hal Blaine.
Among the many famous performers Blaine worked with on records was John Lennon. On this date in 1957, 16-year-old Lennon and his band the Quarrymen were about to perform at a church social in Liverpool, England when he was introduced to 15-year-old Paul McCartney. Only seven years later, Lennon and McCartney became movie stars when the first Beatles movie, “A Hard Day’s Night,” premiered in England on July 6th, 1964.
On the day that “A Hard Day’s Night” made its debut, future president George Walker Bush turned 18. His father, George Herbert Walker Bush, was running for a U.S. Senate seat in Texas that year. The older Bush lost that election, but he rose through Republican ranks to become vice president under Ronald Reagan, and then president himself. First Lady Nancy Reagan, born July 6th, 1921, was Ronald Reagan’s second wife, and he was the first divorced man to be elected president.
When England’s Henry VIII wanted to end his first marriage to wed Anne Boleyn, one of his chief opponents was Lord Chancellor Thomas More. For opposing the king, More eventually was convicted of treason, and was beheaded on July 6th, 1535.
May 6th in history:
Before 1994, if the average traveler wanted to cross the English Channel, that person would have to swim, take a boat or fly across. But on May 6th of 1994, the underground railroad “Chunnel” opened between the two countries. First, Queen Elizabeth rode from England to France, and then French President Francois Mitterrand rode with the queen back to England.
On May 6th, 1954, Roger Bannister became the first person to run a mile in less than four minutes, at a meet in Oxford, England. Bannister beat the four-minute mark by six-tenths of a second.
Two men who became famous as explorers of different frontiers both were born on May 6th of 1856: Robert Peary, credited with discovering the North Pole, and pioneering psychiatrist Sigmund Freud.
May 1st in history:
May 1st seems to be a big day for “kings” …
On May 1st of 1328, the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton recognized the Kingdom of Scotland as independent from the Kingdom of England. That declaration was reversed exactly 379 years later – May 1st, 1707 – when the Act of Union joined the Kingdoms of Scotland and England to form Great Britain.
King Kamehameha I established the Kingdom of Hawai’i on this date in 1785.
The star of “Blue Hawaii,” Elvis Presley (the King of Rock and Roll), married Priscilla Beaulieu in Las Vegas on May 1st, 1967.
The Empire State Building, a popular hangout of King Kong, was dedicated in New York on May 1st, 1931.
An obituary of Jack Paar called him the original “King of Late Night,” as host of the “Tonight Show” in the late ’50s and early ’60s. Paar was born on this date in 1918. Paar inherited the “Tonight” job from Steve Allen, whose TV shows often featured comedian Louis Nye, born today in 1913. Nye’s TV work included a recurring role as Sonny Drysdale on “The Beverly Hillbillies”.
April 16th in history:
On April 16th, 2004, the cruise ship Queen Mary 2 began its first trans-Atlantic crossing from England to New York.
The sinking of the Titanic in 1912 overshadowed the trip made by Harriet Quimby on April 16th of that year. Quimby became the first woman to fly over the English Channel on that day, making the trip in just under an hour.
The next-to-last manned flight to the moon, Apollo 16, was launched on this date in 1972.
And April 16th is the birthday of the composer of “Moon River,” Henry Mancini (1924).
April 5th in history:
On April 5th of 1614, Pocahontas married English colonist John Rolfe in Virginia.
Seven years later, and farther north in the colonies, the Mayflower took to the open water, beginning its return trip to England, leaving the Pilgrims at their settlement in Plymouth.
On April 5th, 1887, six-year-old Helen Keller discovered how the word “water” was spelled in sign language, and what it meant, from her teacher, Annie Sullivan.
Patty Duke and Anne Bancroft won Oscars for playing Keller and Sullivan in the 1962 movie “The Miracle Worker.” Bancroft could not attend the awards ceremony, and Joan Crawford accepted the award for her, allegedly to spite losing nominee Bette Davis, born on this date in 1908. Davis and Crawford had co-starred the previous year in “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?”, but only Davis got an Oscar nomination.
The same night that Crawford accepted the Oscar for Anne Bancroft, Gregory Peck won the Best Actor award for playing Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Peck was born on this day in 1916.
March 26th in history:
The first driving test in Great Britain was given on March 26th, 1934. Presumably, no points were taken off for driving on the left side of the road.
Another first in England occurred on March 26th, 1976, when Queen Elizabeth sent the first royal e-mail. (We assume it did not begin “Greetings, I am the Queen of England, and I have a large sum of money to deposit in your bank account …”)
Other distinguished women are celebrating birthdays on this day: the first female speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi (1940); the first woman on the U.S. Supreme Court, Sandra Day O’Connor (1930); and Supremes lead singer Diana Ross (1944).
March 26th is also the birthday of the President of the United States and the Chief of Control…from the 2008 movie version of Get Smart. James Caan (born 1940) played the president, and Alan Arkin (1934) was the Chief. Caan and Arkin worked together more famously as Freebie and the Bean in 1974.
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.