May 11th in history:
Nova Roma, not Constantinople …
On May 11th, 330 A.D., the city of Byzantium was renamed “Nova Roma” by Roman emperor Constantine I. After he died, the city became known as “Constantinople.”
Siam changed its name to Thailand on May 11th, 1949.
Shortly after he was killed in Vietnam on this day in 1972, the remains of Air Force Lt. Michael Blassie were sent to Thailand for storage. Eventually, the remains were returned to the U.S., but Blassie’s identity could not be confirmed, and he became the Unknown Soldier for the Vietnam War. He was buried at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery from 1984 until 1998, when his identity was proved. Blassie was re-buried in Missouri.
The composer who wrote “God Bless America” and “White Christmas” was born Israel Baline in Russia on May 11th, 1888. He spelled his last name “Beilin” when he became a songwriter, but when it was misspelled “Berlin” on the sheet music for his first published song, he adopted the name Irving Berlin.
And actor Philip Silver changed his name to Phil Silvers, although TV audiences of the ’50s knew him better as “Sergeant Bilko.” Silvers, born on this day in 1911, also starred in “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” and his TV production company Gladasya made “Gilligan’s Island”, on which he guest-starred as producer Harold Hecuba.
April 7th in history:
The first publicly-seen television broadcast between two U.S. cities happened on April 7th, 1927. The link between New York and Washington featured President Calvin Coolidge’s Secretary of Commerce, who would be president himself just two years later: Herbert Hoover.
President Richard Nixon announced on April 7th, 1969, that he would increase the U.S. troop withdrawals from Vietnam.
That announcement came on the 30th birthday of two famous men whose careers would be tied to Vietnam and Nixon. Director Francis Ford Coppola set the novel “Heart of Darkness” in Vietnam for his war epic “Apocalypse Now.” And TV personality David Frost conducted a famous series of 1977 interviews with former President Nixon, which were dramatized in the play and movie “Frost/Nixon.”
Also born on April 7th: Daniel Ellsberg (1931), famous for releasing the Pentagon Papers revealing government decisions about the Vietnam War, and another movie director, Alan Pakula (1928), who made “All the President’s Men,” about the Washington Post reporters who uncovered many details about the Watergate scandal in the Nixon White House.
March 31st in history:
The battleship Missouri, where the Japanese surrendered to the U.S. to end World War II, was decommissioned on March 31st, 1992.
President Lyndon Johnson called for peace talks with North Vietnam in a live TV address on this date in 1968. Johnson surprised the nation when he ended his speech that night by declaring he would not seek another term as president.
Johnson’s withdrawal from the ’68 race may have helped Richard Nixon win the election that fall. Nixon’s future son-in-law, David Eisenhower (Ike’s grandson), turned 20 the day of LBJ’s speech. So did future Vice President Al Gore.
Many famous movies about the Vietnam War were not made until years after LBJ and Nixon left office. The Deer Hunter (1978) was the first Vietnam movie to win an Oscar for Best Picture. Christopher Walken, born March 31st, 1943, won the supporting actor Oscar for his role in Deer Hunter. Walken also has appeared in the movie musicals Pennies from Heaven and Hairspray, and as a frequent host of “Saturday Night Live.” He shares a birthday with fellow Oscar winner Shirley Jones (born 1934), best known for musical roles in Oklahoma! and The Music Man, and as singing mom Shirley Partridge on “The Partridge Family.”
Walken’s Deer Hunter co-star Robert De Niro won the Best Actor award for Raging Bull at the Oscars on March 31st, 1981. The ceremony had been delayed by one day because of the assassination attempt against President Reagan.
November 13 in history:
A “March Against Death” to protest the Vietnam War began at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia on November 13th, 1969. More than 40,000 protesters marched into Washington, as a prelude to a large anti-war moratorium two days later.
On the same date 13 years later, in 1982, a monument to the thousands of Americans killed in Vietnam was dedicated near the Lincoln Memorial. The V-shaped granite wall bearing names of the war dead was not universally popular at first, but since its dedication, it has been praised for the simplicity of its design.
The Holland Tunnel linking New Jersey to Manhattan was an early example of an automotive tunnel designed to keep car exhaust from building up. The nearly two-mile tunnel, named after its chief engineer, Clifford Holland, opened on November 13th, 1927.
November 13th was opening night in 1997 for the Broadway musical version of the Disney movie “The Lion King.” Actress Whoopi Goldberg, born Caryn Johnson on this date in 1955, provided the voice of the hyena Shenzi in the original animated movie.
Since 2007, Whoopi Goldberg has been one of the hosts of the ABC daytime talk show “The View.” Jimmy Kimmel, born on November 13th, 1967, has been a late-night talk show host on ABC even longer, since 2003. Before that, Kimmel was a co-host of “The Man Show” and “Win Ben Stein’s Money.”
August 22 in history:
Spectators at the Louvre museum in Paris couldn’t find the “Mona Lisa” on August 22nd, 1911. Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece was missing from its usual spot on the wall, because it had been stolen the night before. The famous painting remained missing for two years, hidden for most of that time in the apartment of the thief, a Louvre employee from Italy.
The gravesite of Richard III, England’s last Plantagenet king, was considered lost for centuries until researchers found it in 2012, under a parking lot in Leicester. Richard was killed on this date in 1485 during the Battle of Bosworth Field. Richard had been king of England for only two years. His death put Henry Tudor on the throne, as Henry VII.
In Shakespeare’s play “Richard III,” Richard calls out “My kingdom for a horse” shortly before he is killed. The “horseless carriage” was becoming popular by 1902, when the Cadillac Automobile Company was founded on August 22nd from what used to be the Henry Ford Company. Henry Leland was brought in to close down the old company after Ford left the firm, but he decided to keep it going under the Cadillac name.
Another powerful man named Henry — Henry Kissinger — was nominated as secretary of state by President Nixon on August 22nd, 1973. Kissinger had become famous for “shuttle diplomacy” as Nixon’s national security adviser.
Actress Kristen Wiig was born on that same day in 1973. Wiig has been nominated for several Emmy Awards, mostly for her work on “Saturday Night Live,” and was an Oscar nominee for co-writing the movie comedy “Bridesmaids.”
In 1973, Valerie Harper won an Emmy Award for playing Rhoda Morgenstern on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” Born on August 22nd, 1939, Harper earned four Emmys for her portrayal of Rhoda, including one for her own spinoff series “Rhoda.”