February 11th in history:
A judge in Pennsylvania tried a different way of heating his home on February 11th, 1808. Judge Jesse Fell became the first American to use anthracite coal in his home fireplace.
“Shovel all the coal in, gotta keep it rollin'” is a famous rhyme from the song “Chattanooga Choo Choo.” Glenn Miller received a gold record for “Chattanooga Choo Choo” on a live radio show during the second week of February, 1942. And on this date in 1950, a record with a similar title, “Chattanoogie Shoe Shine Boy” by Red Foley, topped the Billboard chart of songs played most often in jukeboxes.
Singer Whitney Houston earned gold, platinum, and diamond records for outstanding music sales during her career. On February 11th, 2012, Houston died of accidental drowning at a Beverly Hills hotel, the day before that year’s Grammy Awards.
Houston won six Grammys in all, including record of the year in 1994 for “I Will Always Love You.” The following year, 1995, the Grammy for record of the year went to “All I Wanna Do” by Sheryl Crow, born on this day in 1962. Crow has won nine Grammys during her career. She shares a February 11th birthday with phonograph inventor Thomas Edison (born 1847), who also popularized motion pictures and the light bulb.
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.'”
Other “Hollywood Palace” guests that December 31st included the Mills Brothers, known for their hit song “Cab Driver,” and the comedy team of Burns and Schreiber, known for their routine about a cab driver and a talkative passenger.
November 21 in history:
Thomas Edison became famous for many of his inventions, but the first one that caught on was the phonograph. Edison announced the development of the sound recording device on November 21st, 1877. His machine could both record sound on a metal cylinder and play it back. Edison discovered that the phonograph worked when he recorded “Mary had a little lamb…”
The phonograph eventually led to other recording devices, such as the VCR. No doubt, video recorders all over the U.S. were being used on November 21st, 1980, to tape the season premiere of “Dallas.” It was the first new episode in eight months, since the cliffhanger episode in which bad guy J.R. Ewing was shot and wounded by an offscreen attacker. The answer to the popular question “Who shot J.R.?” was…his mistress Kristin Shepard, played by Mary Crosby. That night, “Dallas” set an American ratings record, broken three years later by the last episode of “M*A*S*H.”
“Dallas” was still on the air in 1989 when quarterback Troy Aikman joined the Dallas Cowboys. He spent his entire NFL career with the Cowboys, leading them to three Super Bowl titles in four years. Aikman was born November 21st, 1966.
October 6 in history:
October 6th of 1889 must have been a busy day for Thomas Edison. On that day, a judge ruled in Edison’s favor on a dispute over the patent for his incandescent light bulb. Another inventor accused Edison of stealing the bulb design from him, but the judge decided that Edison had made improvements on the other man’s bulb. That same day, Edison demonstrated a motion picture for the first time at his New Jersey lab. It was a “talking” picture, coordinated with a phonograph recording.
The first actual “talking picture” to catch on with the public premiered in New York on October 6th, 1927: “The Jazz Singer,” starring Al Jolson.
The first woman to win the Oscar for Best Actress, Janet Gaynor, was born on this date in 1906.
And October 6th of 1991 was the date of Elizabeth Taylor’s eighth and final wedding. Construction worker Larry Fortensky was Taylor’s seventh husband. They had met at the Betty Ford Clinic. The wedding took place at Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch.
May 24th in history:
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The first night game in major league baseball was played at Crosley Field in Cincinnati on May 24th, 1935. The Reds had the home field advantage, beating the Phillies, 2-1.
On this date in 1976, the Concorde supersonic jet began regular service between Washington and London.
Inventor Samuel Morse was in Washington on this date in 1844 when he sent a message over the telegraph to Baltimore for the first time. The message “What hath God wrought” was transmitted in Morse code.
The first message that Thomas Edison recorded on his phonograph was the poem “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” That nursery rhyme by Sarah Josepha Hale was first published on this date in 1830.
A couple of popular singers who have won multiple Grammy awards for their recordings were born on May 24th…Bob Dylan (born 1941), and Patti La Belle (1944).
April 14th in history:
President Abraham Lincoln was seeing the play “Our American Cousin” at Ford’s Theater in Washington when he was shot on April 14th, 1865.
On this date in 1894, Thomas Edison demonstrated a form of moving-picture show called a “kinetoscope,” consisting of still images viewed in quick succession (better known as a “peep show”).
Two-inch videotape was demonstrated in public for the first time on April 14th, 1956, at a broadcasters’ convention in Chicago.
A rare moment at the Academy Awards show on April 14th, 1969 – a tie for Best Actress. Katharine Hepburn wins her third Oscar, for “The Lion in Winter,” and Barbra Streisand gets her first, for “Funny Girl.”
Several Oscar winners share an April 14th birthday: John Gielgud (1904), Rod Steiger (1925), Julie Christie (1941) and Adrien Brody (1973).
Philip Seymour Hoffman was an Oscar winner for the title role in the 2005 movie “Capote.” The climax of that film shows Truman Capote attending the execution of Perry Smith and Richard Hickock for the Clutter family murders detailed in Capote’s novel “In Cold Blood.” The double execution took place in Lansing, Kansas, on this date in 1965.