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).
January 2nd in history:
At the start of what turned out to be his last year in the White House, President Richard Nixon signed a national speed limit bill on January 2nd, 1974. The speed limit was set at 55 mph nationwide, to save gasoline during an energy shortage.
Nixon was vice president in January of 1960, and he became the Republican nominee that year to succeed lame-duck president Dwight Eisenhower. On January 2nd of 1960, Nixon’s eventual Democratic opponent, Senator John F. Kennedy, launched his presidential campaign.
Kennedy won the 1960 election, but did not live to run again in 1964. While many people thought Nixon might run for president again in ’64, the GOP nomination that year went to Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater — who was born on January 2nd of 1909.
December 31 in history:
The days of traditional street lamps were numbered after December 31st, 1879, when Thomas Edison demonstrated incandescent street lamps in Menlo Park, New Jersey.
A crystal ball with electric lights was used to count down to the new year in Manhattan’s Times Square for the first time on December 31st, 1907. Fireworks had been used for a few years before they got the idea of “dropping the ball” to mark the stroke of midnight.
England actually does “ring in” a new year by airing the midnight chimes of the bell “Big Ben” over BBC Radio. That broadcasting tradition was born on New Year’s Eve of 1923.
Another famous “Ben” from England was born on December 31st, 1943: actor Ben Kingsley, whose birth name was Krishna Bhanji. Kingsley won an Oscar for playing the title role in Gandhi, and he’s been featured in Schindler’s List and Bugsy.
Sir Ben Kingsley shares a New Year’s Eve birthday with Sir Anthony Hopkins (born 1937), best known for winning the Oscar as Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs. Hopkins also has played real people from Hitler to Hitchcock, and Nixon to John Quincy Adams. Hopkins and Kingsley were among five Oscar winners who jointly honored the Best Actor nominees at the Academy Awards in February of 2009.
The Best Actor winner from 1944, Bing Crosby, became the first singer to perform the song “Cabaret” on U.S. network television, on the New Year’s Eve 1966 broadcast of “The Hollywood Palace” on ABC. The title song from the popular Kander and Ebb musical included special lyrics written for the occasion:
“We’ll pop the cork, and toast the year
At 12 o’clock, start celebratin’
Nineteen sixty-seven’s waitin.'”
A New Year’s themed episode of the “M*A*S*H” TV series from December of 1980 condenses an entire year of the Korean War for the 4077th into a single half-hour. Two stars of the series died on New Year’s Eve in consecutive years. Wayne Rogers (born 1933), who played “Trapper John” McIntyre, died December 31st, 2015…and one year later, William Christopher (born 1932), who portrayed Father Mulcahy, passed away on New Year’s Eve.
November 25 in history:
The British occupation of New York City, which began in 1776, ended on November 25th, 1783. That was several weeks after the Treaty of Paris was signed to end the American Revolution. New York became the capital of the U.S. for several years, through the inauguration of George Washington as president in 1789.
President Dwight Eisenhower had a stroke on this date in 1957. Although it was a minor stroke, the health scare was serious enough for the president to write a letter authorizing Vice President Richard Nixon to assume power, if Eisenhower was unable to carry out his duties. The crisis was one factor leading to the creation of the 25th Amendment, which also permits the appointment of a vice president if that office becomes vacant.
An amendment dealing with presidential succession was discussed again after the John F. Kennedy assassination. President Kennedy was buried at Arlington National Cemetery on November 25th of 1963 — the day his son John Junior turned three years old. Film footage shows young John saluting at his father’s funeral procession.
Two other presidential children — twins Jenna and Barbara Bush, the daughters of George W. Bush — were born on this date in 1981. Their grandfather George Herbert Walker Bush was in his first year as vice president at the time.
November 17 in history:
Television history was made on this day in 1968, when a Sunday afternoon game between the New York Jets and Oakland Raiders was running long. NBC was contracted to broadcast a new version of “Heidi,” sponsored by Timex watches, precisely at 7 p.m. Eastern time that night, whether the game was over or not. A last-minute network decision to delay “Heidi” until after the game did not get to the right people, and the football broadcast for most of the U.S. was cut off with one minute left to play, and the Jets ahead by three points. The game ended with two quick touchdowns by the Raiders, who won by a score of 43-32. The fan uproar that resulted led to the now-common practice of delaying all regular programming on the networks rather than disrupting football games in progress.
President Richard Nixon made history on live television by stating “I’m not a crook” during a broadcast news conference on November 17th, 1973. The question-and-answer session was part of an Associated Press meeting at Disney World, in the middle of the Watergate scandal. Nixon made the “crook” remark while telling the reporters that he had never profited from his years of public service.
The Nixon news conference was aired live on network TV on a Saturday night. The producer of “Saturday Night Live,” Lorne Michaels, was born on this day in 1944…the same day and year as frequent SNL host Danny De Vito, known for the TV series “Taxi” and “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.”
TV coverage of a concession speech by Howard Dean has been blamed for costing him the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004. Dean was portrayed as being too emotional and out of control when he shouted to supporters after losing the Iowa caucuses. Dean, a former governor of Vermont, was born on November 17th, 1948.
John Boehner has never run for president, but he was third in line for the Oval Office as Speaker of the House. The Ohio Republican was born on this date in 1949.
November 8 in history:
Two Roosevelts were elected president on November 8th — 28 years apart. The first was Teddy Roosevelt in 1904, winning a full term after filling out the unexpired term of William McKinley. And Franklin D. Roosevelt defeated Herbert Hoover in 1932 for the first of his four presidential wins.
In other famous elections on November 8th…John F. Kennedy narrowly beat Richard Nixon for the White House in 1960, Ronald Reagan was elected governor of California in 1966, and Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential race over Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Trump may be the only U.S. president who inspired a board game before becoming Chief Executive. “Trump: The Game,” a real estate contest, was introduced by the Milton Bradley Company in 1989. Inventor Milton Bradley was born on this day in 1836. The company is known for “The Game of Life,” “Candyland,” and “Chutes and Ladders,” as well as for home versions of popular TV game shows.
The panel show “What’s My Line?” inspired a couple of U.S. home versions, neither one made by Milton Bradley. Columnist Dorothy Kilgallen was a regular panelist on “Line” for 15 years, until her sudden death on November 8th, 1965, a few hours after appearing live on the Sunday night program. Conspiracy theorists have suggested someone murdered Kilgallen for knowing too much about the JFK assassination, or UFOs, or something else. By coincidence, Kilgallen’s death was announced on CBS just after her pre-taped appearance on the November 8th daytime episode of “To Tell the Truth.” On that same day, the NBC soap opera “Days of Our Lives” made its debut, beginning a run that continues today.
October 20 in history:
A dramatic night in Washington on October 20th, 1973…
President Nixon wanted the attorney general, Elliot Richardson, to fire Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox. Richardson resigned instead of carrying out the order. So did his deputy A.G., William Ruckelshaus. Cox was fired by the third man approached by Nixon, Solicitor General and future Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork. The incident became known as the “Saturday Night Massacre,” and fueled efforts to impeach Nixon.
News of the political turmoil interrupted network TV schedules that night. “The Carol Burnett Show” was a popular Saturday night program in 1973. A special episode of the Burnett show was presented at the new Sydney Opera House in Australia in honor of the building’s grand opening, which took place the same date and year as the Washington “massacre.”
Another Saturday night TV hit in October 1973 was “M*A*S*H.” William Christopher, who played Father Mulcahy on the series, was born on October 20th, 1932.