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 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 101 today. His famous movie characters include Vincent Van Gogh in “Lust for Life,” and the title role in “Spartacus.”
November 29 in history:
The Army and the Navy met each other on the football field for the first time on November 29th, 1890, at West Point. The Army Cadets had the home field advantage, but they were shut out by the Navy 24-0. Now, the contest is usually played at a neutral site, Philadelphia.
The tradition of playing pro football on Thanksgiving began on this date in 1934, when the holiday was still celebrated on the last Thursday of November, instead of the fourth Thursday. The Lions had just moved to Detroit, and as a publicity stunt, the club’s new owner arranged to have the team play a Thanksgiving Day ball game. Detroit has hosted an NFL game on Thanksgiving ever since.
The Lions lost that first Thanksgiving game to the Chicago Bears. Rahm Emanuel, the former White House Chief of Staff elected mayor of Chicago in 2011, was born on November 29th, 1959. Another famous Illinois politician born on November 29th was U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Paul Simon (1928).
August 21 in history:
The first Lincoln-Douglas debate took place in Ottawa, Illinois on August 21st, 1858. Abraham Lincoln was running against incumbent Senator Stephen Douglas, and their seven debates around Illinois all dealt with the issue of slavery.
The outside wall of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. lists the names of the 48 states that were in the Union when the memorial was dedicated in 1922. Two more states came along in 1959, Alaska and Hawaii. On this date in ’59, President Dwight Eisenhower signed the law making Hawaii the 50th state.
Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I have a dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial in August of 1963. A few days earlier, on August 21st of that year, King tried out the “I have a dream” theme during a speech to an insurance association convention in Chicago.
During this week in 1963, Chicago native Allan Sherman had a top 10 hit with his novelty song “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah! (A Letter From Camp),” in which a kid writes home about his awful experiences at “Camp Granada.” Before becoming famous by doing song parodies, Sherman produced the Goodson-Todman game show “I’ve Got a Secret.” “Hello, Muddah” was based on camp letters from Sherman’s son Robert, who followed in his dad’s footsteps by also producing shows for Goodson-Todman.
While Sherman’s letter-writing kid was suffering at Camp Granada in 1963, Johnny Castle and Baby Houseman were spending time together that summer at Kellerman’s resort in the Catskills, according to the movie “Dirty Dancing,” released on August 21st, 1987. “Dirty Dancing” premiered on the 63rd birthday of actor Jack Weston, who played resort owner Max Kellerman in the film.
May 22nd in history:
Only two volcanic eruptions occurred in the U.S. during the 20th century. One was the Mount St. Helens eruption of 1980. The other happened on May 22nd, 1915, with an explosion at Lassen Peak in northern California.
Another powerful act of nature, an earthquake, struck southern Chile on this date in 1960, killing thousands of people. Known as the Valdivia quake, it was the strongest earthquake ever recorded, measuring 9.5 on the Richter Scale. Severe tornadoes also have occurred on May 22nd, in Hallam, Nebraska (in 2004) and Joplin, Missouri (2011). The Joplin twister caused more than 150 deaths, and was the deadliest tornado in the U.S. in more than 60 years.
Wreckage from an airplane explosion fell from the sky onto Missouri and Iowa on May 22nd, 1962, when a Continental Airlines flight between Chicago and Kansas City blew up. All 45 people aboard were killed. One of the passengers, who had earlier taken out a large insurance policy, apparently planted a bomb in a restroom. The tragedy reportedly inspired part of the plot of the 1970 movie “Airport.”
In May of 1962, Iowa native Johnny Carson was preparing to take over NBC’s “Tonight Show.” He had just been hired to replace the departing Jack Paar. Carson stayed on as host of “Tonight” longer than any other person, almost 30 years, ending his run on May 22nd, 1992.
Another TV personality named “Johnny” made his debut on this day in 1910: that was the birthdate of announcer Johnny Olson, who’s most famous for shouting “Come on down!” to contestants on “The Price Is Right.” Olson also served as the announcer on “What’s My Line?,” “Match Game,” and “The Jackie Gleason Show.”