March 21st in history:
On March 21st, 1871, Otto von Bismarck became the first chancellor of the German empire, when Prussia unified with other states to form Germany. Bismarck had been the prime minister of Prussia before that.
During a ski-jumping contest in West Germany on this date in 1970, a Yugoslavian jumper named Vinko Bogataj wiped out at the end of the ramp and tumbled into the crowd. Bogotaj recovered, and became famous when his spill was used to illustrate “the agony of defeat” in the opening credits for “ABC’s Wide World of Sports.”
Olympic athletes in America experienced the agony of not competing in the Moscow Summer Games, after President Jimmy Carter announced that the U.S. would boycott the Games, to protest the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. On March 21st, 1980, Carter met with U.S. Olympians, urging them to respect his declaration of a boycott.
As a result of the boycott, NBC cancelled its plans to cover the Moscow Olympics. Meanwhile, Americans had a different game to hold their attention in the summer of 1980…trying to guess “Who shot J.R.?” On the same day of Carter’s meeting with the athletes, the popular CBS series “Dallas” ended its season by showing J.R. Ewing (played by Larry Hagman) being shot and wounded by someone offscreen. When the shooter’s identity was revealed the following November, a record TV audience in the U.S. tuned in for the answer. Hagman was starring in a cable TV revival of “Dallas” when he died in 2012…and the writers killed off J.R. by shooting him, again.
Former Massachusetts Governor Willard Mitt Romney, better known as “Mitt,” was born on March 12th, 1947. Romney was the Republican nominee for president in the 2012 election, following in the footsteps of his father George Romney, who campaigned for the White House in 1968 while serving as governor of Michigan.
Mitt Romney ran for the U.S. Senate against Ted Kennedy in 1994. That same year, on March 12th, the Church of England ordained female priests for the first time.
The first Girl Scout meeting in the U.S. occurred on March 12th, 1912, in Savannah, Georgia. Girl Scouts founder Juliette Gordon Low recruited 18 girls for the meeting. (We don’t know if cookies were served.)
And March 12th is the birthday of the most famous female spy for CONTROL…Barbara Feldon, Agent 99 in the TV series “Get Smart.” But would you believe, we don’t know for sure what year she was born. Must be a government secret.
March 6th in history:
The Alamo fell to Mexican forces on this day in 1836, after a 13-day siege over whether the land would be controlled by Mexico or settlers of Texas.
“The Defense of the Alamo” was a 1953 episode of the TV series “You Are There,” hosted by Walter Cronkite of CBS News. Cronkite later went on to anchor “The CBS Evening News” and live coverage of many manned space flights. He also hosted a Saturday morning revival of “You Are There” in the 1970s, which included a story about the Alamo. Cronkite’s last night on the “Evening News” was March 6th, 1981.
March 6th is the birthday of Mercury astronaut Gordon Cooper (1927), and the first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova (1937). It’s also the birthday of a guy who knows about “The Dark Side of the Moon” — Pink Floyd musician David Gilmour (1946).
The Persian Gulf War ended on February 28th, 1991 – less than two months after U.S. troops began the invasion to liberate Kuwait from Iraqi control.
The Navy ship USS Princeton was the site of a deadly explosion on this date in 1844. President John Tyler and members of his cabinet were aboard the Princeton on the Potomac River when a cannon exploded during a demonstration. Tyler was not hurt, but the blast killed Secretary of State Abel Upshur and the Secretary of the Navy, among others.
Charles Durning, born February 28th, 1923, played a president, a U.S. Senator, a governor, and many other authority figures, as well as Santa Claus, during a long acting career. He may be best known for roles in The Sting, Dog Day Afternoon, and Tootsie. Durning also fought in World War II, and took part in the D-Day invasion at Normandy.
It’s also the birthday of Gavin MacLeod (1931), who has played several military roles on-screen, in Operation Petticoat, Pork Chop Hill, and the TV series “McHale’s Navy.” MacLeod’s most famous TV characters are Murray Slaughter on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and Capt. Merrill Stubing on “The Love Boat.”
Pork Chop Hill was a Korean War drama. The TV series “M*A*S*H” was a Korean War comedy which became more serious during its 11-year run on CBS. On February 28th, 1983, over 100 million people watched the movie-length finale of “M*A*S*H,” in which the war ended. “M*A*S*H” lasted longer than the combined total of the Korean War, the Gulf War, and the Tyler Administration.
February 21st in history:
Richard Nixon became the first U.S. president to visit China on February 21st, 1972. Nixon’s historic week-long visit included a stop at the Great Wall of China.
A different kind of structure was discovered on this date in 1953. February 21st was the date James Watson and Francis Crick discovered the structure of a DNA molecule.
The Washington Monument was the world’s tallest structure when it was dedicated on February 21st, 1885, one day before George Washington’s birthday. The monument is about 40 feet taller than the previous record-holder, the Cologne Cathedral in Germany.
George Washington was once played by Kelsey Grammer in a TV movie about Benedict Arnold. Grammer is best known as Frasier Crane on “Frasier” and “Cheers,” and Sideshow Bob on “The Simpsons.” He was born February 21st, 1955.
February 17th in history:
Thomas Jefferson was elected president by the U.S. House on this date in 1801. The House had to break an electoral tie between Jefferson and Aaron Burr. As a result, Burr became vice president.
A helicopter buzzed the White House on February 17th, 1974, during the final months of Richard Nixon’s presidency. The chopper was stolen and flown by a disgruntled Army private named Robert Preston.
Actor Robert Preston was starring in the original Broadway production of “The Music Man” in February of 1958. For those who couldn’t go to Broadway, television was growing in popularity as an entertainment medium. On February 17th, 1958, Pope Pius XII declared St. Clare of Assisi the patron saint of television.
If there were no such thing as TV, there would be no “Larry the Cable Guy.” Larry, known in real life as Dan Whitney, celebrates his birthday on this day (1963).
February 14th in history:
James K. Polk posed for photographer Mathew Brady on February 14th, 1849, less than a month before leaving the White House. It appears to be the first time that an incumbent U.S. president posed for a solo photograph. President Polk had been photographed earlier in his term, in a group shot with members of his cabinet.
Television cameras came to the White House on Valentine’s Day, 1962, for a prime-time tour of the mansion, hosted by First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. The tour was shown on all three major networks.
George Washington never slept in the White House, but George Washington Slept Here was the name of a popular movie starring comedian Jack Benny, born February 14th, 1894. Benny had a weekly show on radio, and then TV, for over 30 years, built around his character of a cheapskate who played the violin badly and always claimed to be 39 years old. Benny’s hometown of Waukegan, Illinois, named a school after him in the 1960s. The sports teams at Benny Middle School are nicknamed the 39ers.
Jack Benny was born in Chicago, not Waukegan. On his 35th birthday in 1929, seven men were shot to death in a Chicago garage, in what became known as the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, the most famous gangster-related murders of the 1920s. The victims were associated with the “Bugs” Moran gang in Chicago. Rival gang leader Al Capone was blamed for the killings. In the 1959 comedy Some Like It Hot, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon escape Chicago by posing as women after witnessing the Massacre.