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.
July 2nd in history:
The first zeppelin flight in Germany happened on July 2nd, 1900.
Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan were attempting to fly around the world on July 2nd, 1937, when they were heard from for the last time.
On this date in 2002, adventurer Steve Fossett became the first person to complete an around-the-world, nonstop solo flight in a balloon.
Another adventurer used more than forty weather balloons filled with helium to let him fly in a lawnchair on July 2nd, 1982. Larry Walters rose to an altitude of about 15,000 feet over southern California, and stayed aloft for several hours. Walters became caught on a power line as his chair slowly descended, and he was famous for a brief time afterward as “Lawnchair Larry.”
Europeans first arrived in Minnesota on July 2nd, 1679, led by Daniel Greysolon Du Luht – better known as “DuLuth.”
Daniel DuLuth reached the Mississippi River from Lake Superior by way of the St. Croix River. Another European native, Englishman Tyrone Guthrie, established a theater company near the Mississippi River in Minneapolis in 1963. Guthrie was born July 2nd, 1900.
March 21st in history:
On March 21st, 1871, Otto von Bismarck became the first chancellor of the German empire, when Prussia unified with other states to form Germany. Bismarck had been the prime minister of Prussia before that.
During a ski-jumping contest in West Germany on this date in 1970, a Yugoslavian jumper named Vinko Bogataj wiped out at the end of the ramp and tumbled into the crowd. Bogotaj recovered, and became famous when his spill was used to illustrate “the agony of defeat” in the opening credits for “ABC’s Wide World of Sports.”
Olympic athletes in America experienced the agony of not competing in the Moscow Summer Games, after President Jimmy Carter announced that the U.S. would boycott the Games, to protest the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. On March 21st, 1980, Carter met with U.S. Olympians, urging them to respect his declaration of a boycott.
As a result of the boycott, NBC cancelled its plans to cover the Moscow Olympics. Meanwhile, Americans had a different game to hold their attention in the summer of 1980…trying to guess “Who shot J.R.?” On the same day of Carter’s meeting with the athletes, the popular CBS series “Dallas” ended its season by showing J.R. Ewing (played by Larry Hagman) being shot and wounded by someone offscreen. When the shooter’s identity was revealed the following November, a record TV audience in the U.S. tuned in for the answer. Hagman was starring in a cable TV revival of “Dallas” when he died in 2012…and the writers killed off J.R. by shooting him, again.
March 4th in history:
Franklin D. Roosevelt was sworn in for the first of his four terms as president on March 4th, 1933. It was the last March inauguration. The swearing-in date changed to January 20th in 1937. FDR’s first inaugural address was the one in which he said “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
Fear of an unseen, menacing truck driver is what drives the plot of Steven Spielberg’s 1971 made-for-TV movie Duel. The real driver behind the wheel of the truck in Duel was stunt driver Carey Loftin, who also drove in famous chase scenes for Bullitt and It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. Loftin was 83 years old when he died on this date in 1997.
March 4th is the birthday of the AAA (American Automobile Association), founded in Chicago in 1902.
German auto maker Gottlieb Daimler unveiled his first automobile on this day in 1887. Daimler is credited as the inventor of the first four-wheel auto.
Popular hot-rod designer of the 1960s, Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, was born on March 4th, 1932.
January 30th in history:
The British monarchy came to a temporary end on January 30th, 1649, when King Charles the First was beheaded by opponents of royalty. Oliver Cromwell led England as Lord Protector for several years afterward. When the monarchy was restored, after Cromwell’s death, royalists dug up his body and beheaded him in retaliation on January 30th, 1661.
On January 30th, 1933, Adolf Hitler was sworn in as the chancellor of Germany. Hitler came to power on the 51st birthday of the newly-elected U.S. president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was sworn in weeks later. FDR and Hitler would both die in the same month, April 1945, as the U.S. and its allies were about to defeat Nazi Germany in World War Two.
January 30th of 1933 also was the day that a new hero was introduced to radio listeners in America, when station WXYZ in Detroit broadcast the first episode of “The Lone Ranger.” And another famous masked hero celebrates a birthday on January 30th: actor Christian Bale (1974), who played Batman in the “Dark Knight” series of films that started in 2005 with Batman Begins.
January 21st in history:
In 1899, the Opel Company of Germany made its first automobile. Before that, Opel had specialized in bicycles and sewing machines.
The first nuclear submarine, the USS Nautilus, was launched by First Lady Mamie Eisenhower in Connecticut on January 21, 1954.
Six years later, in 1960, a female monkey named “Miss Sam” was launched into space from a base in Virginia, in a test of the Mercury spacecraft.
A different way to fly was introduced by the British and French on January 21, 1976, when the two countries began supersonic passenger flights by the Concorde.
And the father of “The Flying Wallendas” high wire act, Karl Wallenda, was born on January 21st of 1905.
January 14th in history:
The name “Casablanca” made headlines when U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill met in the Moroccan city for a war conference, beginning January 14th, 1943. The two Allied leaders spent nearly two weeks planning European strategy against Italy and Nazi Germany.
The Casablanca meeting coincided with the general release of the movie “Casablanca,” starring Humphrey Bogart. Bogie died of cancer on January 14th, 1957 — just five years after winning his only Oscar for “The African Queen.”
Twenty years later, actor Peter Finch died on January 14th, 1977. Finch would win a posthumous Oscar as Best Actor that year for his role as mad anchorman Howard Beale in “Network.” Finch died on the 36th birthday of his “Network” co-star Faye Dunaway (1941), who won the Best Actress Oscar for that movie. The two had no scenes together in “Network.”