December 17 in history:
The Wright Brothers earned their wings on December 17th, 1903, by successfully flying an airplane at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. That was the day Orville Wright made the first powered flight of a plane, going 120 feet in 12 seconds. Later in the day, brother Wilbur kept the plane in the air for about a minute.
Other flying objects were the focus of Project Blue Book. But the U.S. Air Force officially closed the book on UFO investigations on December 17th, 1969. In nearly two decades, the government collected nearly 13,000 reports of unidentified flying objects. Most of the reports were explained easily, but of the objects that remained “unidentified,” the Air Force said it found no proof that any of them was an alien spacecraft.
On the same day that Project Blue Book was declared to be over, there was an unusual nighttime sighting all across America, on TV screens. More than 20 million Americans watched long-haired, falsetto-voiced singer Tiny Tim become a married man on “The Tonight Show.” Host Johnny Carson had invited Tim (real name, Herbert Khaury) to wed his teenage fiancee Victoria Budinger, alias “Miss Vicki,” on the December 17th broadcast in ’69.
“If TV has taught me anything, it’s that miracles always happen to poor kids at Christmas.” That wasn’t said by Tiny Tim from “A Christmas Carol,” but by another fictional child: Bart Simpson. It’s a quote from the very first half-hour episode of “The Simpsons,” aired on December 17th, 1989: a holiday story called “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire.” Bart, Homer, Marge, Lisa, and Maggie originated as characters in short films by cartoonist Matt Groening featured on “The Tracey Ullman Show.” “The Simpsons” is now the longest-running American sitcom and the longest-running American animated program.
October 23 in history:
Brutus is infamous for his role in assassinating Julius Caesar in the Roman Senate, in 44 B.C. Two years later, on October 23rd, 42 B.C., Brutus met his own fate, killing himself after losing the second battle of Philippi to Marc Antony.
A fateful meeting of two old friends, two pilots, led to deadly consequences in 1942. One man was flying a B-34 bomber for the Army, while the other was a pilot for American Airlines. They discovered that both would be flying near Palm Springs, California the next day, October 23rd. On that day, the bomber pilot, Lt. William Wilson, tried flying close to American Flight 28 to signal to his friend, First Officer Louis Reppert. Wilson got too close, and the planes collided. The airliner crashed in the desert, killing all 12 people aboard. Wilson went through a court-martial, but was acquitted.
One passenger on the American flight was an Oscar-winning songwriter, Ralph Rainger. He’s best known for writing the theme songs used by two popular comedians…”Love in Bloom,” associated with Jack Benny, and “Thanks for the Memory,” Bob Hope’s theme. Late in their careers, Hope and Benny appeared frequently with Johnny Carson on “The Tonight Show.” Carson became a comedy legend in his own right, by hosting “Tonight” for 30 years. He was born October 23rd, 1925.
NBC airs “Saturday Night Live” in the “Tonight Show” time slot on weekends. On October 23rd, 1976, Steve Martin hosted “SNL” for the first time, and played the host of “Jeopardy! 1999,” a futuristic parody of the popular game show. “I Lost on Jeopardy,” a take-off of the Greg Kihn song “Jeopardy,” was an early hit for song parodist and musician “Weird Al” Yankovic, born this day in 1959.
September 27 in history:
Pope Urban VII (real name, Giovanni Castagna) died on this date in 1590. He had only been the pope for 13 days, the shortest papacy ever. There was no controversy about the cause of death: Pope Urban died of malaria.
The assassination of the first Catholic president of the U.S. led to a government investigation that concluded on September 27th, 1964, with the release of the Warren Commission report. The Commission led by Chief Justice Earl Warren concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in killing President John F. Kennedy. TV networks did live programs about the Commission findings at the hour the report was released to the public.
A live late-night program called “Tonight!” debuted on NBC on this date in 1954. Steve Allen was host for the first three years, succeeded by Jack Paar, Johnny Carson, Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien, Jay Leno again, and now Jimmy Fallon. Steve Allen’s first night as host was also the 34th birthday of his wife, actress Jayne Meadows.
May 22nd in history:
Only two volcanic eruptions occurred in the U.S. during the 20th century. One was the Mount St. Helens eruption of 1980. The other happened on May 22nd, 1915, with an explosion at Lassen Peak in northern California.
Another powerful act of nature, an earthquake, struck southern Chile on this date in 1960, killing thousands of people. Known as the Valdivia quake, it was the strongest earthquake ever recorded, measuring 9.5 on the Richter Scale. Severe tornadoes also have occurred on May 22nd, in Hallam, Nebraska (in 2004) and Joplin, Missouri (2011). The Joplin twister caused more than 150 deaths, and was the deadliest tornado in the U.S. in more than 60 years.
Wreckage from an airplane explosion fell from the sky onto Missouri and Iowa on May 22nd, 1962, when a Continental Airlines flight between Chicago and Kansas City blew up. All 45 people aboard were killed. One of the passengers, who had earlier taken out a large insurance policy, apparently planted a bomb in a restroom. The tragedy reportedly inspired part of the plot of the 1970 movie “Airport.”
In May of 1962, Iowa native Johnny Carson was preparing to take over NBC’s “Tonight Show.” He had just been hired to replace the departing Jack Paar. Carson stayed on as host of “Tonight” longer than any other person, almost 30 years, ending his run on May 22nd, 1992.
Another TV personality named “Johnny” made his debut on this day in 1910: that was the birthdate of announcer Johnny Olson, who’s most famous for shouting “Come on down!” to contestants on “The Price Is Right.” Olson also served as the announcer on “What’s My Line?,” “Match Game,” and “The Jackie Gleason Show.”
May 1st in history:
May 1st seems to be a big day for “kings” …
On May 1st of 1328, the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton recognized the Kingdom of Scotland as independent from the Kingdom of England. That declaration was reversed exactly 379 years later – May 1st, 1707 – when the Act of Union joined the Kingdoms of Scotland and England to form Great Britain.
King Kamehameha I established the Kingdom of Hawai’i on this date in 1785.
The star of “Blue Hawaii,” Elvis Presley (the King of Rock and Roll), married Priscilla Beaulieu in Las Vegas on May 1st, 1967.
The Empire State Building, a popular hangout of King Kong, was dedicated in New York on May 1st, 1931.
An obituary of Jack Paar called him the original “King of Late Night,” as host of the “Tonight Show” in the late ’50s and early ’60s. Paar was born on this date in 1918. Paar inherited the “Tonight” job from Steve Allen, whose TV shows often featured comedian Louis Nye, born today in 1913. Nye’s TV work included a recurring role as Sonny Drysdale on “The Beverly Hillbillies”.