This Day in Pop Culture for January
All the weird, wacky and wonderful events that happened this month:
1902: Polar Bear Plungers
It is believed that winter swimming began in South Boston as early as 1865 and was probably introduced by European immigrants who believed that cold water plunges that were followed by saunas or steam bathers, were good for a person’s health. During the summer months, those who visited the L Street Bathhouse became known as the “Brownies” because of their deep tans. In 1902, The L Street Brownies became of the oldest clubs in the U.S. becoming famous for their annual New Year’s Day plunge in Dorchester Bay. In 2020, the city is expecting over 600 people to take the plunge. Other cities that hold their own versions include Seattle, WA; Evergreen, Colorado; New York and Lake George, NY; Milwaukee, WI and Dartmouth, NH.
1915: ‘The Birth of a Nation’
Think that movies are controversial now? How about in 1915 when Hollywood’s first blockbuster was born? The silent movie, The Clansman, later renamed as The Birth of a Nation, was shown to an audience on New Year’s Day in 1915. The D. W. Griffith movie was controversial as it included a scene of the assassination of President Lincoln and was seemingly used to promote the Ku Klux Klan. It also featured white actors playing the roles of African-American men in blackface. Many feel that Griffith glamorized the KKK and The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People published a pamphlet that describes the film as “three miles of filth.” In fact, the film was later used as a recruiting tool for the KKK. It was also the first motion picture to be viewed at the White House, which is ironic in itself. Some say that despite the negative content of the film, it shows unique film techniques that caused it to be considered an important film in the commercial film industry. Go figure.
- 1735: Paul Revere
- 1752: Betsy Ross
- 1969: Vern Troyer (actor)
- 1892: Ellis Island began processing immigrants in the U.S.
- 1934: Alcatraz Island became a U.S. Federal Prison
- 1971: Cigarette ads were banned on TV.
- 2017: America’s Got Talent winner, Grace VanderWaal, released her first single, “Burned.”
1974: I Can’t Drive 55
On this day in 1974, President Nixon signed the Emergency Highway Energy Conservation Act, which set a new national maximum speed limit of 55 mph. Up until that point, Americans enjoyed inexpensive Middle Eastern oil. However, in 1973, Arab members of the Organization for Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) protested the West’s support of Israel in the Yom Kippur War by stopping oil shipments to the United States, Japan and Western Europe and raising oil prices four times the original price. The president had hoped that by forcing Americans to drive at more “fuel-efficient” limits, it would help them to not have to depend on foreign oil so much. The act wasn’t fully repealed until November 28, 1995.
- 1940: Jim Bakker (televangelist)
- 1947: Jack Hanna (zoologist)
- 1968: Cuba Gooding, Jr. (actor)
- 1971: Taye Diggs (actor)
- 1975: Dax Shephard (actor)
- 1983: Kate Bosworth (actress)
- 1967: Movie actor, Ronald Reagan was sworn in as Govenor of California
- 1991: Sharon Pratt Kelly became the first African American woman mayor of a major city (District of Coumbia)
1996: National Fruitcake Toss Day
Fruitcake is one of those holiday items that many people abhor even though they have never tried it. However, the same can be said for the many people who have. To celebrate the end of the holiday season and to clean out the kitchen of old uneaten Christmas treats, the first Great Fruitcake Toss was held on this day in 1996 in Manitou Springs, Colorado. There’s not much to the event. Entrants compete to see who can throw their mound of fruitcake the farthest.
1952: Just the Facts
Like many radio dramas of the day, NBC’s Dragnet made the move from radio to TV with Sergeant Joe Friday who was always asking for “just the facts.” Debuting on January 3, 1952, the show was the first to be filmed in Hollywood instead of New York and was brought to life by Jack Webb who played Friday as well as the roles of producer and director. The show was unique in other ways including that the stories were based on actual LAPD cases. It goes without saying that the show was a hit earning a spot in the Top 10 through 1956 where it was reported that the show was seen by more than half of all American households. A film version of the show was created in 1954 and the series continued until 1959. Then it was revived in 1967 for three more years. Most will remember the 1987 film of the same name and characters but with a decidedly sillier plot and played as a comedy starring Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks. In 2003, a remake of the TV show was created for ABC that starred Ed O’Neill as Sergeant Friday. It lasted just shy over a year. Some things should just be left alone.
- 1892: J.R.R. Tolkien (author)
- 1932: Dabney Coleman (actor)
- 1950: Victoria Principal (actress)
- 1956: Mel Gibson (actor)
- 1975: Danica McKellar (actress)
- 1981: Eli Manning (football player)
- 1959: Alaska is admitted as the 49th U.S. state.
- 2000: The last daily comic strip for Peanuts was printed.
1905: The Voice of Winnie-the-Pooh was Born
Sterling Holloway was born on January 4, 1905. While being an actor in movies as well as for TV for almost 50 years, Sterling Holloway is probably best remembered for his voice work, namely that as the original voice of Walt Disney’s Winnie-the-Pooh. Sterling “almost” began his career with Disney in 1937 as the voice of Sleepy for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, but Disney decided to go with Pinto Colvig instead. However, in 1941 Sterling’s voice was heard in Dumbo, playing the role of Mr. Stork who delivered the big-eared elephant to his mother. He also voiced the roles of Flower in Bambi, the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland, Kaa the snake in The Jungle Book and Roquefort the mouse in The Aristocats in addition the iconic bear who was stuffed with fluff. Sterling is also famous for voicing a number of TV commercials including Sugar Bear for Sugar Crisp cereal (“Can’t get enough of that Sugar Crisp”), Purina Puppy Chow (“For a full year till he’s full grown!”) and Woodsy Owl for the US Forest Service (“Give a hoot, don’t pollute.”) He was even considered for the role of Garfield the cat in 1982, but lost to Lorenzo Music. His last voice-over work was for an episode of TV’s Moonlighting, (“Atomic Shakespeare”) in 1986 as a narrator. He died on November 22, 1992.
National Trivia Day
It is said that National Trivia Day is celebrated every year on this day and was created by Robert L. Birch, known as the “Grand PunScorpion” of the Puns Corp. Although many sources point to his name and his reasoning for the day was to “raise awareness of the significance of trivia in the development of human curiosity, science and fun,” very little information can be found about the man or the day. Even so, many still celebrate. By the way, “trivia” is the plural of “trivium” which means “place where three roads meet.”
1936: The Day the Music … First Got a Chart
Billboard magazine published its first “hit parade” list of most popular song recordings on this day way back in 1936. The top 5 songs for that year were “Pennies from Heaven” by Bing Crosby, “The Way You Look Tonight” by Fred Astaire, “Goody Goody” by Benny Goodman, “Glory of Love” also by Benny Goodman and “Did I Remember?” by Shep Fields & His Rippling Rhythm Orchestra.
- 1643: Isaac Newton (mathematician)
- 1809: Louis Braille (inventor of the Braille writing system)
- 1838: General Tom Thumb (circus performer)
- 1937: Dyan Cannon (actress)
- 1963: Dave Foley (comedian)
- 1977: Graham Elliott (chef)
- 1853: Solomon Northup was freed from being a slave. He later became the best-selling author of 12 Years A Slave.
- 1896: Utah is admitted as the 45th U.S. state.
- 1999: Jesse Ventura, a former professional wrestler, was sworn in as governor of Minnesota.
1643: The First American Divorce
Is is sad that the divorce rate in America, (with Christians included) is about 50%. Perhaps we can blame the Clarkes. On this day in 1643, Anne Clarke of the Massachusetts Bay Colony was granted a divorce from her husband, Denis. According to records, Mr. Clarke abandoned the Mrs. and their two children for another woman whom he had two other children with. After stating his refusal to return to Anne, the Puritan court awarded a divorce to Anne. The Quarter Court’s final decision read: “Anne Clarke, beeing deserted by Denis Clarke hir husband, and hee refusing to accompany with hir, she is graunted to bee divorced.”
1961: Mister Ed Gets His Voice
The TV series about the talking horse, Mister Ed began airing in syndication on this day in 1961. It was later picked up by CBS which continued to air the show from October 1 to February 6, 1966. Director Arthur Lubin had initially wanted to create a TV series based on Francis the Talking Mule movies (Lubin had directed the first six Francis movies) but was unable to secure the rights. However, his secretary, Sonia Chernus, brought to Lubin’s attention Walter R. Brooks’s children’s book, The Talking Horse on which the TV series was based upon. It was comedian George Burns who help fund the show’s original pilot starred Scott McKay as Mr. Ed’s “owner,” Wilbur. When the show failed to interest the networks, Lubin set out to create a syndicated show securing more than 100 TV stations on the idea and recast McKay with Alan Young. Connie Hines played Wilbur’s wife, Carol and Allan Lane provided the voice for Mister Ed while Bamboo Harvester actually played the role of the horse. In 2004, FOX had planned a revival of the TV series with Sherman Hemsley providing the voice of the horse, but the series did not get past the pilot stage.
- 1914: George Reeves (actor)
- 1917: Jane Wyman (actress)
- 1923: Sam Phillips (founder of Sun Records)
- 1931: Robert Duvall (actor)
- 1946: Diane Keaton (actress)
- 1953: Pamela Sue Martin (actress)
- 1968: Carrie Ann Inaba (choreographer)
- 1975: Bradley Cooper (actor)
- 1978: January Jones (actress)
- 1914: The Ford Motor Company announced an eight-hour workday and a $5 minimum wage.
- 1933: Golden Gate Bridge began construction.
1994: Skater Nancy Kerrigan is Attacked
One of sport’s most bizarre events happened on this day on January 6, 1994. Just two days before the Olympic trials, American skater Nancy Kerrigan was attacked at an ice rink where she suffered a blow from of a club on the back of her knee from a mystery man. Soon, all fingers were pointing to fellow team member, yet professional rival, Tonya Harding. It was soon discovered that Harding’s ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, set up the attack, hiring two men to do the job. Kerrigan was unable to compete and Harding won the championship assuring her a place at the 1994 Olympics. Later, the attackers both confessed but Harding denied that she was involved with the incident in any way. Then she admitted that she did know of her ex’s involvement of the attack, but failed to tell the authorities. About that same time, the U.S. Olympic officials named Harding and Kerrigan to the team that would compete in Lillehammer, Norway. The committee considered dropping Harding, but she filed a lawsuit to stop that plan. Later at the Olympics, NBC enjoyed high ratings as everyone tuned in to see if there would be more drama on the ice. They were not disappointed. During Harding’s performance, one of her laces broke and she stopped during the middle of her routine. Surprisingly, she was allowed a restart, but finished in 8th place and Kerringan brought home the silver medal. Back in the mainland, Harding pleaded guilty to conspiracy to hinder the prosecution of Kerrigan’s attackers. The whole ordeal was turned into the award-winning movie, I, Tonya in 2017.
National Bean Day?
According to TimeandDate.com, the origin of this unofficial holiday was created to honor scientist Gregor Mendel. Known as the Father of Genetics, Mendel experimented on peas to discover the laws of genetic inheritance.
1975: Wheel of Fortune Debuts
Wheel of Fortune is the longest-running syndicated game show in the U.S. airing over 6,000 episodes to date. Merv Griffin conceived the idea for Hangman-type show and pitched the idea to his staff who said that it might work if it had a “hook.” Griffin then thought of adding a roulette wheel to the game and pitched the idea to NBC who liked the idea but thought it needed a shopping element to appeal to women viewers. The pilot was called Shopper’s Bazaar and featured a wheel that spun vertically by the show’s host, which was Chuck Woolery. Some tweaks were made adding Susan Stafford to turn the letters and the show was re-named Wheel of Fortune. Woolery starred on the show’s premiere on this day in 1975 and served on the series until December 25, 1981. Pat Sajak came on board on December 28, 1981 and Vanna White joined him a year later. Sajak stayed with the show through January of 1989 when it was announced that he would be hosting his own late night talk show on CBS. Rolf Benirschke was a short-term replacements (5 months) when the show was cancelled by NBC. Wheel of Fortune then moved to CBS and ran for two years with Bob Goen as host (and the shopping element eliminated) and then moved back to NBC in 1991 for six months before it was cancelled for good. The syndicated version of the show began in September 1983 and has starred Sajak (whose talk show didn’t work out) and White ever since.
- 1412: Joan of Arc (martyr and saint)
- 1912: Danny Thomas (actor)
- 1913: Loretta Young (actress)
- 1924: Earl Scruggs (muscian)
- 1925: John DeLorean (founder of DeLorean Motor Company)
- 1944: Bonnie Franklin (actress)
- 1955: Rowan “Mr. Bean” Atkinson (actor)
- 1970: Julie Chen (TV personality)
- 1984: Kate McKinnon (actress)
- 1947: Pan American Airlines became the first commercial airline to offer a round-the-world ticket.
- 1974: Daylight savings time started four months early in the U.S. due to the oil crisis.
1950: ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’ is a Hit…Twice
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer started as a giveaway storybook written in 1939 for Montgomery Ward department stores. Robert L. May from the company’s marketing department came up with the story. More than two million copies of the book went out to customers, but most of the world was still unaware of this reindeer until ten years later when May’s brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, put the story to music. Harry Brannon was the first to sing the song, but it was Gene Autry’s version that is the most famous. At first Autry rejected the song, but his wife talked him into recording it. It sold more than two million copies in its first year and became the first #1 song on the U.S. pop charts this week in 1950. It is also known as the only chart-topping song to fall completely off the charts after making the #1 spot. Ironically, the same original song landed on the Billboard Hot 100 list landing in the #27 spot on December 22, 2018!
- 1912: Charles Addams (cartoonist)
- 1948: Kenny Loggins (singer)
- 1956: David Caruso (actor)
- 1957: Katie Couric (TV journalist)
- 1964: Nicolas Cage (actor)
- 1970: Doug E. Doug (actor)
- 1971: Jeremy Renner (actor)
- 1894: William Kennedy Dickson received a patent for motion picture film.
- 1927: The first transatlantic telephone serve was established from New York City to London.
- 1955: Marian Anderson became the first person of color to perform at the Metropolitan Opera.
- 1999: The Senate trial in the impeachment of President Bill Clinton began.