May 21st in history:
Michelangelo’s sculpture, the Pieta, was vandalized at the Vatican on May 21st, 1972 by a geologist named Laszlo Toth. He damaged the statue of the Virgin Mary with several blows from a hammer.
Writer and actor Don Novello, alias “Father Guido Sarducci”, used the name Lazlo Toth when writing prank letters to famous people. He published a few books containing many of the letters he received in return. Novello wrote and performed on “Saturday Night Live” in the late 1970s, along with actor, writer and U.S. Senator Al Franken, born May 21st, 1951.
“All My Children” star Susan Lucci has never run for public office, but she’s famous for being an also-ran. Her string of Emmy nominations without a win ended on May 21st, 1999, when she won a Daytime Emmy Award on her 19th try.
April 3rd in history:
The first run of the Pony Express between St. Joseph, Missouri and Sacramento, California began on April 3rd, 1860.
Laptop computers have become a favorite means of communication for many people. IBM’s first laptop was introduced on April 3rd, 1986.
Former college professor Ted Kaczynski sent messages to the media complaining about modern technology. His crusade against technology also included bombings which killed three people. Kaczynski, better known as the “Unabomber,” was arrested at a cabin in Montana on April 3rd, 1996.
The first portable “cell phone” call made in New York City happened on this date in 1973.
Actor Alec Baldwin was once removed from an airplane parked at the Los Angeles airport when he refused to stop playing a word game on his cell phone. Baldwin, born on this date in 1958, played fictional TV network boss Jack Donaghy on the sitcom “30 Rock.” He has also gained popularity for his comic impersonation of President Donald Trump on “Saturday Night Live.”
And telephone calls are a major element to the plot of “Pillow Talk,” the only movie for which Doris Day received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. Day publicly celebrated her 90th birthday in 2014, but birth records in Ohio show that she was born on April 3rd, 1922, not 1924.
April 1st in history:
A historic day for the Air Force in two countries: The Royal Canadian Air Force was founded on April 1st, 1924. Exactly 30 years later, in 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower authorized the establishment of the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado.
Clearing the “air” of smoke: Eisenhower’s vice-president, Richard Nixon, was president himself in 1970. On April 1st of that year, Nixon signed the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act, which would take all radio and TV commercials for cigarettes off the air in early ’71.
A popular substitute for smoking – chewing gum – has made a fortune for the William Wrigley Company, founded in Chicago on April 1st, 1891. Wrigley’s didn’t start selling gum until a year after the company was in business. Free samples of gum given away with packages of baking powder became more popular than the powder.
Fictional 19th century critic Jebidiah Atkinson from “Saturday Night Live” could have been an early customer of Wrigley’s gum (but he might not admit to liking it). Atkinson is a popular SNL character performed by Taran Killam, born on April 1st, 1982. Killam played another 19th century character in “12 Years a Slave,” and in the Broadway musical “Hamilton” (as King George III).
SNL is produced at New York’s Rockefeller Center, which also houses the MSNBC cable news network. MSNBC host Rachel Maddow was born on this day in 1973.
NBC aired the sitcom “The Debbie Reynolds Show” in 1969-70. Reynolds, born April 1st, 1932, was better known for movies, including “Singin’ in the Rain” and “The Unsinkable Molly Brown.” Reynolds’s personal life also kept her in the public eye. Her first marriage, to Eddie Fisher, ended when Fisher left her to marry Elizabeth Taylor. Debbie and Eddie’s daughter, Carrie Fisher, played Princess Leia in the “Star Wars” movies. Carrie died unexpectedly in December 2016, and Debbie died the next day.
March 31st in history:
The battleship Missouri, where the Japanese surrendered to the U.S. to end World War II, was decommissioned on March 31st, 1992.
President Lyndon Johnson called for peace talks with North Vietnam in a live TV address on this date in 1968. Johnson surprised the nation when he ended his speech that night by declaring he would not seek another term as president.
Johnson’s withdrawal from the ’68 race may have helped Richard Nixon win the election that fall. Nixon’s future son-in-law, David Eisenhower (Ike’s grandson), turned 20 the day of LBJ’s speech. So did future Vice President Al Gore.
Many famous movies about the Vietnam War were not made until years after LBJ and Nixon left office. The Deer Hunter (1978) was the first Vietnam movie to win an Oscar for Best Picture. Christopher Walken, born March 31st, 1943, won the supporting actor Oscar for his role in Deer Hunter. Walken also has appeared in the movie musicals Pennies from Heaven and Hairspray, and as a frequent host of “Saturday Night Live.” He shares a birthday with fellow Oscar winner Shirley Jones (born 1934), best known for musical roles in Oklahoma! and The Music Man, and as singing mom Shirley Partridge on “The Partridge Family.”
Walken’s Deer Hunter co-star Robert De Niro won the Best Actor award for Raging Bull at the Oscars on March 31st, 1981. The ceremony had been delayed by one day because of the assassination attempt against President Reagan.
March 5th in history:
Two famous show-business deaths on March 5th: John Belushi and Patsy Cline, who were both in their early 30s when they died. Comedian Belushi was found dead of a drug overdose on this day in 1982. Cline and other country singers were killed in a 1963 plane crash in Tennessee.
John Belushi once played an alien named Kuldorth in a “Coneheads” sketch on “Saturday Night Live.” On the day Belushi died in ’82, a Soviet spacecraft called Venera 14 landed on the surface of Venus, surviving the heat and atmospheric pressure of the planet for nearly an hour to take photographs.
A milestone in flight on March 5th, 1912: It was the first time that a dirigible, or zeppelin, was used for military purposes, when Italy sent a dirigible behind Turkish lines on a spy mission.
Led Zeppelin performed “Stairway to Heaven” for the first time in public in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on March 5th, 1971. The band’s bassist, John Paul Jones, says audience members were bored by the song because they had never heard it before.
February 22nd in history:
Another legendary sports event happened on this date in 1980: the “Miracle on Ice,” in which the U.S. Olympic men’s hockey team surprised the world by beating the Soviets, 4-3, in the semi-final round of the Winter Games. The Americans went on to win the gold against Finland in the games at Lake Placid, New York.
Actor Kirk Douglas once served as royalty at a winter carnival in Lake Placid. During the week of the Miracle on Ice game, Douglas was hosting “Saturday Night Live” in New York, featuring NBC announcer Don Pardo, born on this day in 1918. Until his death in 2014, Pardo had been the SNL announcer for most of the show’s run. Pardo also worked on the original versions of “Jeopardy” and “The Price is Right,” and broke the news of President Kennedy’s assassination on WNBC-TV in New York in 1963.
David Letterman was getting ready to move his talk show from NBC to CBS when it was announced on February 22nd, 1993 that CBS had bought the Ed Sullivan Theater, to keep Letterman’s show in New York.
On this day in 1964, the Beatles returned to England after their famous first visit to the U.S., which included three straight appearances on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” The band had pre-recorded its performance which would be seen on “Sullivan” the next night.
February 8th in history:
The U.S. has had three vice-presidents named Johnson. The first one was Richard Johnson, who served under President Martin Van Buren. Johnson was chosen for VP by the Senate on February 8th, 1837, when no candidate could get a majority in the Electoral College.
Lyndon Johnson was vice-president in the summer of 1963, when Ted Koppel began his journalism career as the youngest reporter ever hired by ABC Radio. Koppel was only 23 — born on February 8th, 1940.
Koppel was anchoring the late-night news show ‘Nightline’ in 1984, the year actress Cecily Strong was born on this date. At the time of her birth, Strong’s father was head of the Associated Press Capitol bureau in Springfield, Illinois. Cecily co-anchored ‘Weekend Update’ on ‘Saturday Night Live’ for one season.
Actor Jack Lemmon played Chicago newspaper reporter Hildy Johnson in the 1974 movie remake of the play “The Front Page.” Lemmon was born on this day in 1925. He won Oscars for “Mister Roberts” and “Save the Tiger,” and is also known for his roles in “Some Like It Hot,” “Days of Wine and Roses,” and several movies with “Front Page” co-star Walter Matthau.
A session of the U.S. Senate was broadcast for the first time on the radio, on February 8th, 1978, during debate on a Panama Canal treaty. And radio made its way into the White House for the first time on this day in 1922, when President Warren Harding brought the new invention into the mansion.