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 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.
February 10th in history:
The play “Death of a Salesman” made its Broadway debut on February 10th, 1949, starring Lee J. Cobb as salesman Willy Loman. It has been revived frequently in New York, with later productions starring George C. Scott, Dustin Hoffman, and Philip Seymour Hoffman. “Salesman” won a Pulitzer prize for playwright Arthur Miller, who died on this date in 2005, on the 56th anniversary of the play’s premiere.
Willy Loman dies in a car crash at the end of “Salesman.” Auto safety was the topic on this day in 1966 when attorney and consumer advocate Ralph Nader made his first appearance ever before a Congressional committee. Nader had just published the book “Unsafe at Any Speed,” criticizing a lack of safety features in American-made cars.
A car crash in the desert sets off a wild chase in the 1963 comedy “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.” Jimmy Durante plays the dying driver who tells rescuers about a buried treasure in stolen money. It was the last feature film appearance for Durante, born February 10th, 1893. Durante is also known to modern audiences for singing during the opening credits of “Sleepless in Seattle” and as the narrator of the animated Christmas special “Frosty the Snowman.”
January 16th in history:
Prohibition became the law in the U.S. when 36 states ratified the 18th Amendment. That threshold was reached on January 16th, 1919, when five states approved the amendment in one day. The actual ban on alcohol took effect one year later.
“I get no kick from champagne” is the opening line of the song “I Get a Kick Out of You,” introduced by Ethel Merman in the Cole Porter musical “Anything Goes.” Merman was born January 16th, 1908. She originated the roles of Annie Oakley in “Annie Get Your Gun” and Mama Rose in “Gypsy,” and played Mrs. Marcus in the movie “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.”
The beer-brewing Busch family has its name on the home stadium of the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team. Two famous players for the Cardinals were born on January 16th…Jay “Dizzy” Dean (1910) and Albert Pujols (1980).
On this date in 1970, center fielder Curt Flood sued Major League Baseball to protest his trade from the Cardinals to the Phillies. Flood’s challenge of the baseball “reserve clause” eventually helped Major League players to become free agents, who could choose which teams to play for.