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.”
December 9 in history:
“If Illinois isn’t the most corrupt state in the United States, it’s one hell of a competitor.” That’s what an FBI special agent said on December 9th, 2008…the day Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich was arrested on a charge of trying to “sell” the U.S. Senate seat left vacant when Barack Obama was elected president. Agents arrested Blagojevich on the day before his 52nd birthday. The following month, Blagojevich was impeached for misconduct and removed from office by the Illinois legislature. He was convicted of more than a dozen crimes, and began a 14-year prison term in March of 2012.
Blagojevich represented Chicago in the legislature and Congress. A team called the Hustle represented Chicago in the Women’s Professional Basketball League, which played its first game on this date in 1978 in Milwaukee. The Hustle won that inaugural game, 92-87, against the host team, the Milwaukee Does.
A Broadway-bound production of “Death of a Salesman,” about over-the-hill hustling salesman Willy Loman, played in Chicago in 1984. It starred Dustin Hoffman as Willy, and John Malkovich of Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre as his son Biff. Malkovich was born December 9th, 1953. Also in 1984, Malkovich appeared in the movies “Places in the Heart” and “The Killing Fields,” and he later played himself in the comedy “Being John Malkovich.”
Malkovich portrayed Tom Wingfield in a 1987 movie version of the Tennessee Williams play “The Glass Menagerie.” A 1950 film of “Menagerie” featured a young Kirk Douglas as the other male character in the story, Jim O’Connor, the “Gentleman Caller.” Douglas was born Issur Danielovitch, and turns 101 today. His famous movie characters include Vincent Van Gogh in “Lust for Life,” and the title role in “Spartacus.”