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.”
July 9th in history:
On July 9th, 1850, Zachary Taylor became the second U.S. president to die in office. Taylor became sick after eating at a 4th of July celebration – and, to this day, some historians believe he was deliberately poisoned. His body was exhumed for testing in 1991, but the coroner did not find sufficient evidence of poisoning.
Another man who wanted to be president made a famous speech on this date in 1896. William Jennings Bryan delivered what was known as the “Cross of Gold” speech at the Democratic Convention in Chicago, opposing the gold standard. Following that oration, Bryan became the youngest presidential nominee in Democratic party history at age 36, and earned the nickname the “Boy Orator.”
Tom Hanks became a first-time Oscar nominee at age 32 for “Big,” in which he played a boy suddenly stuck in a man’s body. Hanks, born on July 9th, 1956, won back-to-back Oscars for “Philadelphia” and “Forrest Gump.” He has also played astronaut Jim Lovell in “Apollo 13,” commanded G.I.s in the WWII drama “Saving Private Ryan,” and romanced Meg Ryan in “Sleepless in Seattle” and “You’ve Got Mail.”
“Big” was released in 1988, the same year that 11-year-old Fred Savage played a grown-up suddenly stuck in a boy’s body in “Vice Versa.” Savage, born on this day in 1976, also played Peter Falk’s grandson in “The Princess Bride” and starred as Kevin Arnold on the TV series “The Wonder Years.” As a grown-up, Savage has shifted from acting to directing.