May 11th in history:
Nova Roma, not Constantinople …
On May 11th, 330 A.D., the city of Byzantium was renamed “Nova Roma” by Roman emperor Constantine I. After he died, the city became known as “Constantinople.”
Siam changed its name to Thailand on May 11th, 1949.
Shortly after he was killed in Vietnam on this day in 1972, the remains of Air Force Lt. Michael Blassie were sent to Thailand for storage. Eventually, the remains were returned to the U.S., but Blassie’s identity could not be confirmed, and he became the Unknown Soldier for the Vietnam War. He was buried at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery from 1984 until 1998, when his identity was proved. Blassie was re-buried in Missouri.
The composer who wrote “God Bless America” and “White Christmas” was born Israel Baline in Russia on May 11th, 1888. He spelled his last name “Beilin” when he became a songwriter, but when it was misspelled “Berlin” on the sheet music for his first published song, he adopted the name Irving Berlin.
And actor Philip Silver changed his name to Phil Silvers, although TV audiences of the ’50s knew him better as “Sergeant Bilko.” Silvers, born on this day in 1911, also starred in “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” and his TV production company Gladasya made “Gilligan’s Island”, on which he guest-starred as producer Harold Hecuba.
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.
February 25th in history:
The U.S. Steel corporation was founded on February 25th, 1901. Businessmen J.P. Morgan, Elbert Gary and Andrew Carnegie combined smaller steel companies into one large firm. Upon its formation, U.S. Steel became the first company worth one billion dollars.
Two actors famous for playing very rich men were both born on February 25th in 1913. German actor Gert Fröbe had the title role in the James Bond adventure Goldfinger in 1964. That same year, Jim Backus began playing millionaire Thurston Howell III on “Gilligan’s Island.” Backus’s other famous roles include James Dean’s father in Rebel Without a Cause, and the voice of nearsighted cartoon character Mister Magoo.
On this day in 1964, boxer Cassius Clay, and anybody who bet on him, was in the money after Clay upset heavyweight champ Sonny Liston at Miami. Liston had had enough after six rounds, and Clay became the surprise champ by TKO. Clay declared himself “the greatest,” and became known as Muhammad Ali.
February 5th in history:
Three veterans of “Saturday Night Live” share a February 5th birthday: Christopher Guest (born 1948), best known for directing and/or acting in mock documentaries including “This is Spinal Tap” and “Waiting for Guffman”; Tim Meadows (1961), whose most famous SNL character was “The Ladies’ Man”; and Chris Parnell (1967), alias Dr. Spaceman on “30 Rock.”
Parnell was born on the same day in ’67 that “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” debuted on CBS. The often-controversial variety show hosted by Tom and Dick Smothers was a launching pad for talent such as frequent SNL host Steve Martin and “Spinal Tap” director Rob Reiner.
Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks Sr. and director D.W. Griffith combined their talents to launch a film studio on this date in 1919…United Artists. United Artists had big hits with the Beatles’ first two movies, “Gilligan’s Island” and the James Bond franchise.
In the opening scene of the 007 movie “Goldfinger,” Bond battles a drug lord from Mexico. February 5th is the anniversary of the Mexican constitution, adopted in 1917.
A different milestone for Central America was the development of the Panama Canal. On February 5th, 1900, the United States and Great Britain signed a treaty to create the canal, connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
January 9th in history:
New England Telephone and Telegraph introduced the first battery-operated telephone switchboard on January 9th, 1894.
On January 9th in 1968, the Surveyor 7 spacecraft made a successful soft landing on the moon, paving the way for manned landings on the moon’s surface.
It’s the birthday of the first U.S. President to make a phone call to astronauts on the moon, Richard Nixon (1913).
There were “no phone, no lights, no motor car” on “Gilligan’s Island,” but Gilligan and six other castaways had enough adventures to fill a sitcom, three TV movies and two cartoon series. January 9th is the birthday of actor Bob Denver, alias Gilligan (1935).
November 10 in history:
The 10th of November is known for some disasters on the water…
A passenger ship called the Stephen Whitney was wrecked on this date in 1847, when it struck an island in the fog off the coast of Ireland. Only 18 of the 110 people aboard the ship survived. The captain apparently had mistaken a nearby lighthouse for a different one. A new lighthouse was built in that area as a result of the disaster.
A huge explosion destroyed the USS Mount Hood on November 10th, 1944, in an island harbor near New Guinea. The Navy ship was carrying nearly four thousand tons of ammunition. None of the approximately 350 men aboard the ship survived the blast, and the cause of the explosion was never determined.
Perhaps the most famous shipwreck to occur on November 10th claimed 29 lives, when the freighter Edmund Fitzgerald sank in Lake Superior during a storm in 1975. A year later, on the first anniversary of the sinking, Gordon Lightfoot’s ballad “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” was number 3 on the Billboard chart in America, behind “Rock’n Me” by Steve Miller and “Disco Duck” by Rick Dees.
November 10th is the birthday of two actors famous for playing passengers on ill-fated boat trips…”Jaws” star Roy Scheider (1932), and Russell Johnson (1924), Professor Roy Hinkley from “Gilligan’s Island.”
September 26 in history:
Explorer Francis Drake ended a three-year voyage around the world when he arrived back at his starting point of Plymouth, England, on this date in 1580. Drake was knighted by Queen Elizabeth less than a year later.
The cruise ship Queen Mary was launched on September 26th, 1934. It made regular cruises between Europe and the U.S. before it was retired in 1967, and docked in Long Beach, California.
“A three-hour tour” for the S.S. Minnow led to a three-year run on CBS for the sitcom “Gilligan’s Island,” which premiered on September 26th, 1964. “Gilligan” producer Sherwood Schwartz launched another iconic sitcom on this day exactly five years later in 1969, when “The Brady Bunch” made its debut on ABC.
“The Beverly Hillbillies” also had its premiere on September 26th, in 1962…the birthday of Donna Douglas (1933), who played Elly May Clampett on the show. Immediately after “Hillbillies” that night on CBS, “The Dick Van Dyke Show” began its second season with a new opening sequence, in which Van Dyke, as TV writer Rob Petrie, walks into his house and either trips over an ottoman, or sidesteps it. Three versions were shot, so viewers could guess every week whether Rob would trip or not.