January 31st in history:
Two Wisconsin towns called Kilbourntown and Juneautown merged on January 31st, 1846, after years of disputes. They were on opposite sides of a river, and Kilbourntown on the west side often attempted to isolate Juneautown to the east. When the two towns finally became a single city, they named the new community after the river between them: the Milwaukee River.
Former Milwaukee Brewers owner Bud Selig was the baseball commissioner who suspended outspoken player John Rocker on this date in 2000. Rocker, a star relief pitcher for the Atlanta Braves, had angered many fans with an interview in Sports Illustrated where he made racist and anti-gay remarks, and said unflattering things about New York City. January 31st also is the birthday of Ernie Banks (born 1931), the first black player for the Chicago Cubs.
And the 3M Company turned a slur against a nationality into a successful brand name when it started selling Scotch Tape on January 31st, 1930. The name “Scotch” came from a customer complaint that 3M put too little adhesive on the tape, in order to save money.
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.”
October 14 in history:
King Harold II of England was killed by Norman invaders during the Battle of Hastings on October 14th, 1066. Harold was the first English king to die in battle.
On this date in 1981, the Egyptian government elected Hosni Mubarak as president, to succeed Anwar Sadat, who had been shot and killed a week earlier. Mubarak remained president until being ousted as a result of protests in 2011.
Former U.S President Theodore Roosevelt was shot and slightly wounded in Milwaukee on October 14th, 1912, while campaigning as the Bull Moose candidate for president. The bullet was slowed down by a folded copy of his speech in his coat pocket, and Roosevelt finished his speech before going to a hospital.
That week in 1912, the Army football team was 2-0 and preparing for a game against Yale. One of the star players for the cadets was halfback and future president Dwight Eisenhower, born on October 14th, 1890.
April 6th in history:
On April 6th, 1909, explorers Robert Peary and Matthew Henson reported reaching the North Pole. Henson was African-American, and Peary has been criticized for not treating Henson as an equal member of the expedition.
Baseball executive Al Campanis was accused of making racist remarks on a broadcast of “Nightline” on April 6th, 1987. Campanis was general manager of the Dodgers until the TV interview, when he said blacks “may not have some of the necessities” to be baseball managers. He later said that he meant many blacks might not have the proper experience for the job.
Famous baseball stadiums that opened on April 6th include Miller Park in Milwaukee (2001) and Camden Yards in Baltimore (1992). It’s also the birthday of Baltimore native Barry Levinson (1942), who directed the classic baseball movie “The Natural,” starring Robert Redford and Kim Basinger.
“The Natural” was Basinger’s follow-up to the Burt Reynolds comedy “The Man Who Loved Women.” That film also featured Burt’s future TV wife on “Evening Shade,” Marilu Henner, born April 6th, 1952. Best known as Elaine on “Taxi,” Henner has written several books about health and fitness, and is among a handful of Americans identified as having “highly superior autobiographical memory.”
Cliff Clavin also remembers lots of things, but he’s fictional. John Ratzenberger, who played know-it-all mailman Cliff on “Cheers,” was born on this date in 1947. “Cheers” and “Taxi” aired back to back Thursday nights on NBC in 1982 and ’83, and had a number of producers and writers in common.
Watch Marilu Henner, along with Triviazoids’ Brad Williams, on “60 Minutes”: