COME BLOW YOUR HORN, START CELEBRATIN’

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.

THE WAR TO END ALL WARS

December 18 in history:

The President of the United States got married on December 18th, 1915.  Woodrow Wilson’s first wife, Ellen, died a year after moving into the White House.  Widower Wilson met widow Edith Bolling Galt in 1915, and they wed just nine months later.  Edith Wilson is sometimes considered America’s first female president, for assuming some duties of the presidency after Wilson had a stroke during his second term.

brad-pitt-sexiest-man-alive-people-magazineAt the time of President Wilson’s second wedding, he was about to run for a second term using the slogan “He kept us out of war.” The First World War began in 1914, in response to the assassination of an Austrian archduke and his wife. That archduke, Franz Ferdinand, was born on this day in 1863. Future Soviet leader Joseph Stalin also was born December 18th, in 1878. Stalin was not allowed to serve in WWI because of a bad arm.

In the 2008 movie “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” the title character, who ages in reverse, is born on the last day of World War I. Button is played by Brad Pitt, born December 18th, 1963. Pitt also has starred in “Moneyball,” “Fight Club,” and “Ocean’s Eleven,” and is known for his marriages to Jennifer Aniston and Angelina Jolie.

The WWI drama “War Horse” earned a Best Picture Oscar nomination for its producer and director Steven Spielberg, born December 18th, 1946. Spielberg has won two Oscars as a director, for two films about World War II, “Schindler’s List” and “Saving Private Ryan.” He’s also had big hits with “Jaws,” “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,” and the Indiana Jones franchise.