Sunday, June 30, 2013
60 years ago: The first Chevrolet Corvette was driven off a General Motors assembly line in Flint, Michigan, on June 30, 1953, six months after it was shown as a concept car. The sleek, low-slung convertible with a lightweight fiberglass body was the first truly American sports car. The production Corvette’s price of $3,513 made it much costlier than the simple, $2,000 roadster envisioned by famed GM auto designer Harley Earl. All 1953 models were white with red interiors and black canvas tops. Sporting rocket-like rear fenders with fins, vertical grille teeth and sunken headlights covered by mesh stone guards, the car was both unique and gimmicky. Its V-6 engine was responsive, but sports-car fans objected to an automatic transmission. It had clip-in side curtains instead of roll-up windows, and no exterior door handles (you had to reach inside for the door release). None of the 300 cars was sold by dealers. Corvettes were made available to the public only after a St. Louis factory had been ramped up in 1954.
Saturday, June 29, 2013
Astronomer George Ellery Hale was born on June 29, 1868, into a wealthy Chicago family. As a teenager he began studying the Sun, and as an undergraduate at MIT he invented an instrument to study key features on the Sun. At the University of Chicago in the 1890s, he established the Yerkes Observatory in Wisconsin, which still houses the world's largest refracting telescope used for astronomy. In 1904 he founded the Mount Wilson Observatory, near Pasadena, CA, one of whose reflecting telescopes (named after Hale) is among the most notable in astronomy. He encouraged research in galactic and extragalactic astronomy as well as solar and stellar astrophysics. At Mount Wilson he hired Edwin Hubble, who calculated that the universe is expanding. In 1928 he built the massive 200-inch Hale Telescope at Caltech’s Palomar Observatory (called the “Cathedral of Astronomy”), which was the world’s largest reflecting telescope for more than four decades and was the first to explore the furthest reaches of the known universe.
Friday, June 28, 2013
Eric Ambler, British author of innovative spy novels, was born on June 28, 1909, in London, to a family of entertainers. Though he studied engineering, he was working as a fantasy-prone advertising copywriter when he started writing a new kind of spy thriller in the 1930s, featuring ordinary but appealing characters who suddenly find themselves enmeshed in sinister situations. A Coffin for Dimitrios(1939) was made into a film noir classic in 1944. Five earlier novels were The Dark Frontier (1936), which foresaw the atomic bomb; Background to Danger (1937); Cause for Alarm (1938); Epitaph for a Spy (1938); and Journey into Fear (1940), also made into a movie. He wrote the screenplay for the movie version of “A Night to Remember” (1958), and his 1962 thriller, The Light of Day, was filmed as the movie “Topkapi.” Considered a master of surprising tales of international intrigue and espionage, Ambler was a major influence on John le Carré and Graham Greene, who called him the greatest writer of suspense novels.
Thursday, June 27, 2013
Commercial aviation pioneer Juan “Terry” Trippe was born on June 27, 1899, to a wealthy New York family. Despite his first name, he had no significant Hispanic connections (he was named for an aunt, Juanita). After training as a Navy pilot during World War I and graduating from Yale, he started up Long Island Airways as an air-taxi service for New York’s rich and powerful. In 1927 he created Florida-based Aviation Corporation of the Americas as an air mail and passenger service between Key West and Havana, Cuba. This airline would become Pan American Airways, the unofficial U.S. flag carrier, known as Pan Am. Trippe’s Pan Am expanded via overseas air routes and government contracts during World War II. In the 1950s, he coaxed Boeing Aircraft into building and delivering the all-new Boeing 707 jet, and in 1965 he asked for and received the first “jumbo jet,” the Boeing 747, which Pan Am identified as a “Clipper” in names and call signs. Trippe is credited with the rise of mass air travel beginning in the 1960s.
Wednesday, June 26, 2013
According to German legend, on June 26, 1284, a mysterious wanderer named the Pied Piper, dressed in multicolored (“pied”) clothing, played his magical flute and led 130 children out of the Saxony town of Hamelin, never to be seen again. As told by the Brothers Grimm, the piper had previously rid the town of a plague of rats by luring the rodents with his flute into the nearby River Weser, where they drowned. When the city fathers reneged on their promise to pay him generously, the piper took revenge by returning in hunter’s attire, entrancing the town's children with his flute, and luring them to a mountain cave, where they disappeared. The legend is apparently based on an indiscernible event, recorded in the 15th century, in which 130 children were “seduced” and “lost at the place of execution.” Theories include an epidemic, natural disaster, emigration to the east, a Children’s Crusade, or the work of a pedophilic killer. The piper may be regarded as a figure in the Dance of Death (or Totentanz), and may be the source of the phrase “pay the piper.”
Tuesday, June 25, 2013
Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí was born on June 25, 1852, in Catalonia. He studied architecture in Barcelona and gained recognition working in a variety of styles until he became a leading proponent of Catalan Modernisme, a cultural movement focused on the search for Catalan national identity. His work impressed an industrialist who commissioned several of his major works, including the Palau Güell (palace) and Park Güell. In 1883 Gaudí took over construction of Barcelona’s Sagrada Família (Basilica and Expiatory Church of the Holy Family), the design of which he entirely altered to reflect an organic style, imitating natural shapes. Its design is a mix of Spanish Late Gothic, Catalan Modernisme and Art Nouveau, transformed by Gaudi’s own distinctive aesthetic. The nave’s interior (pictured) is designed as a forest of inclined columns, branching like trees, which enhances structural soundness. Seven of Gaudí’s works, including the Sagrada Família (still in progress), have been declared World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.
Monday, June 24, 2013
On June 24, 1949, “Hopalong Cassidy” began airing on NBC Television. It was the first network Western TV series, starring actor William Boyd, who had already played the clean-cut hero, Bill "Hopalong" Cassidy, in 66 highly popular films dating from 1935. The white-haired Boyd was clothed in black, including his hat, entirely against the western stereotype of the good guy in a white hat. His role was to battle crime, uphold justice and defend honest citizens with his quick-draw shooting, clear thinking, solid fists and his ethical character. Riding his white horse, Topper, he was accompanied by a comical, grizzled sidekick, Windy Halliday, who for a time was played by George “Gabby” Hayes. The early TV shows were actually re-edited versions of the theatrical films, the rights to which Boyd wisely owned. The series (and its vast merchandising) made Boyd wealthy. It was also a precursor to similar shows starring Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. Boyd was meticulous in presenting a positive role model for his legions of young viewers.
Sunday, June 23, 2013
Joséphine de Beauharnais, Empress of the French, was born Marie Josèphe Rose Tascher de La Pagerie on June 23, 1763, to a wealthy white Creole family in Martinique. In France, she married an aristocrat, Alexandre de Beauharnais, who was guillotined during the Reign of Terror. After several affairs, Joséphine met Napoléon Bonaparte, six years her junior, in 1795, and became his mistress. They married the following year. In 1804 he crowned her Empress at his own coronation. Because she was barren, Napoléon divorced Joséphine in 1810 but insisted she retain her title. She maintained her lavish lifestyle at the Château de Malmaison (pictured), near Paris, which she had acquired in 1799. In its English-style gardens, she indulged her passion for roses and sought to acquire all known varieties. Her horticulturalist, André Dupont, began all modern hybridization of roses through artificial pollination. She produced the first written history of the cultivation of roses, and specimens even crossed British and French naval blockades to grace her gardens.
Saturday, June 22, 2013
On June 22, 1990, the notorious crossing point between East Berlin and West Berlin known as Checkpoint Charlie was dismantled. It marked an end point in the Cold War and a visible sign of the collapse of Communist regimes that dominated Eastern Europe after World War II. "Checkpoint C" was created when the Soviets began constructing the Berlin Wall in August 1961. It was the most important of various crossing points into the city’s Allied sector from the Soviet-occupied sector. The Wall had been built to stop a massive outflow of East Germans to the freedom of the West, which accelerated in 1961. The checkpoint, whose name “Charlie” came from the letter C in the NATO phonetic alphabet, was the site of a tense diplomatic standoff between U.S. and Soviet tanks during the Berlin Crisis of October 1961. Numerous escape attempts occurred there, all dangerous, some fatal. The checkpoint became an icon in spy movies and novels, signifying the border between capitalism and socialism, freedom and totalitarianism.
Friday, June 21, 2013
Philosopher, playwright and novelist Jean-Paul Sartre was born in Paris on June 21, 1905. As a child he was educated by tutors and later said that "It was in books that I encountered the universe." At the University of Paris he met his lifelong companion, novelist Simone de Beauvoir, served in the military and taught at a public secondary school in Le Havre, where he wrote his first novel, Nausea (1938), a key work of existentialism. In diary entries, Roquentin, a dejected researcher, searches for meaning but realizes that the indifference of the physical world to human aspirations is the context in which people are free to make their own meaning. Sartre's position is that human beings are "condemned to be free," and the meaning of their lives is not established before their existence (i.e., "existence precedes essence") because there is no Creator. When Sartre was arrested for civil disobedience during the Paris strikes of 1968, President Charles de Gaulle pardoned him and said, "you don't arrest Voltaire."
Thursday, June 20, 2013
The University of Oxford, located northwest of London on the River Thames, was granted its official charter on June 20, 1214. Teaching existed at Oxford since 1096. Most wealthy Englishmen seeking higher education had previously gone to the University of Paris (now the Sorbonne), but in 1167 King Henry II banned English students from attending. They settled at Oxford instead, which expanded greatly thereafter. In 1209, violent disputes between students and Oxford townspeople led academics to flee en masse to the northeast, establishing what became the University of Cambridge. To reverse Oxford’s loss of prestige and income, a papal emissary formalized the scholars’ situation via a charter. Students returned and colleges were formed, though town-and-gown tensions remained for centuries. Oxford is the English-speaking world’s oldest university and the world’s second-oldest surviving university. Pictured: the iconic Radcliffe Camera (1749), part of Oxford’s Bodleian Library (“the Bod”), and All Souls College.
Wednesday, June 19, 2013
Socialite Wallis Simpson was born Bessie Wallis Warfield on June 19, 1896, in a hotel near Gettysburg, PA. She acquired great poise at Baltimore’s finest girls’ school and, at age 20, married a U.S. Naval officer. Following an affair with a diplomat, she obtained a divorce and married Ernest Simpson, an Anglo-American businessman (whom she already knew) and moved with him to London, where she fell into a circle that included the mistress of Edward, Prince of Wales, heir to the British throne. The prince, who enjoyed charming women, soon fell in love with Wallis, who divorced Simpson in preparation to marry Edward. However, on the death of his father, King George V in 1936, the prince’s plan to marry a twice-divorced woman caused a constitutional crisis and led to his abdication – done, in his words, for “the woman I love.” The couple married in 1937, the same year they were courted by Adolf Hitler. Denied royal titles, they became the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. A voracious consumer of couture, the Duchess was known to travel with 141 pieces of luggage.
Tuesday, June 18, 2013
Lyricist Sammy Cahn was born on June 18, 1913, on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, to Polish immigrant parents. He was a violinist in vaudeville orchestras and wrote songs for Broadway musicals. In 1940 he moved to Hollywood, where he collaborated with composer Jule Styne on songs for 19 movies from 1942 to 1951, including "Time After Time" and "Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow." In 1955, his friend Frank Sinatra introduced him to composer Jimmy Van Heusen, with whom he wrote a procession of hits for Sinatra, including “The Tender Trap,” "Love and Marriage," "Three Coins in the Fountain," "All The Way," "Come Fly With Me," "Only The Lonely," "The Second Time Around," "My Kind of Town," "Call Me Irresponsible" and "September of My Years." Sinatra recorded a total of 89 Cahn songs. In 1959 Cahn and Van Heusen also wrote "High Hopes," which later became John F. Kennedy's campaign song (with different lyrics). Cahn holds the record for the most Academy Awards for Best Song (four), three of which were sung by Sinatra.
Monday, June 17, 2013
Russian composer Igor Stravinsky was born on June 17, 1882, in a suburb of St. Petersburg. He decided to be a composer at age 20 and studied privately with composer Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov. In 1909, two of his orchestral works, including “Fireworks,” were performed at a concert attended by ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev, who was planning to present Russian opera and ballet in Paris. He hired Stravinsky for orchestrations and commissioned him to compose a ballet score, “The Firebird” (1910). Its great success was followed by two more ballet scores, “Petrushka” (1911) and the dissonant, violent “The Rite of Spring” (1913), which caused a riot in the theater in which it premiered in Paris. Subtitled "Pictures of Pagan Russia," the ballet draws on pre-historic tribal rituals involving the arrival of spring, ending in human sacrifice. All aspects of the production flouted prevailing conventions of ballet, including an off-balance rhythmic structure and Vaslav Nijinsky’s choreography that included spastic contortions. Pictured: Picasso sketch, 1920.
Sunday, June 16, 2013
Alfred Hitchcock’s movie “Psycho” was released in theaters on June 16, 1960. It was a huge box office success. The suspense-horror film is based on a 1959 novel of the same name by Robert Bloch, inspired by the murders and body snatching of Wisconsin criminal Ed Gein. Like Norman Bates, the movie’s protagonist, Gein was a solitary murderer whose deceased mother was domineering. Nearly the entire movie was shot with 50 mm lenses on 35 mm cameras to closely mimic normal human vision and keep the audience involved. The famous shower scene, in which the “main” character, Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) is stabbed to death by Bates, was shot over seven days. It lasts three minutes and involves 77 camera angles and 50 cuts. Chocolate syrup was used for blood in the scene because it filmed better in black-and-white. The stabbing sound was created by plunging a knife into a casaba melon. “Psycho” was the first U.S. film ever to show a toilet flushing on screen when Marion destroys an incriminating piece of paper.
Saturday, June 15, 2013
Arlington National Cemetery was established on June 15, 1864, by Brig. Gen. Montgomery C. Meigs, who commanded the Union Army garrison at Arlington House, which had been the estate of the family of Confederate general Robert E. Lee's wife, Mary Anna Custis Lee. She was a great-granddaughter of Martha Washington by Martha’s first marriage. By late 1863, other cemeteries in the Capital region had been filled with Civil War dead. Land was needed, and seizure of Arlington was not only geographically sensible, but also politically pleasing: it would permanently deny Robert E. Lee use of his home. To ensure the mansion would forever be uninhabitable for the Lees, Meigs ordered graves to be placed as close to the house as possible. In 1866 he built a large stone burial vault in Lee’s rose garden, to hold the remains of more than 2,000 soldiers killed on battlefields near Washington. Nearly 4,000 former slaves are buried at Arlington, which today is the only national cemetery to hold servicemembers from every war in U.S. history.
Friday, June 14, 2013
Publisher John Bartlett was born June 14, 1820, in Plymouth, Massachusetts. He was a descendant of key members of the Plymouth Colony. A precocious child, he completed school at age 16 and began working at the University Bookstore in Cambridge that served Harvard, where he became so well known for his knowledge of books and quotations that the advice “Ask John Bartlett” was commonly offered to those seeking information. At age 29 he owned the store and, in 1855, he published the first edition of his Familiar Quotations, derived from the commonplace book he kept to answer queries. A third of the book comprised quotations from the Bible and Shakespeare’s works; the remainder came largely from the major English poets. Bartlett sold the bookstore during the Civil War and joined Boston publishers Little, Brown and Company, which printed nine editions of his compendium of quotations. He also compiled a huge concordance of Shakespeare’s works (1894), which took him an estimated 16,000 hours to complete.
Thursday, June 13, 2013
Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell was born on June 13, 1831, in Edinburgh, where he was educated and experimented with chemical, electric and magnetic apparatuses and studied the properties of light. At Cambridge University, he exhibited his genius for mathematics and, in the 1850s, he summarized Michael Faraday's theories of electricity and magnetic lines of force in equations that are the basis of all modern theories of electromagnetic phenomena, showing that magnetism, electricity and light are simply different manifestations of the same fundamental laws of physics. His central work in 1865 demonstrated that electric and magnetic fields travel through space as waves moving at the speed of light. This led to our understanding of radio waves, radar, radiant heat and electromagnetic radiation, and also laid the foundations for Einstein's special theory of relativity. Einstein compared Maxwell's work with that of Isaac Newton, and kept a picture of Maxwell on his study wall, with those of Faraday and Newton.
Wednesday, June 12, 2013
The National Baseball Hall of Fame was dedicated on June 12, 1939, at Cooperstown, overlooking Lake Otesaga, in central Upstate New York. The museum honors players, managers and others connected with baseball. Its founding was driven by Stephen Carlton Clark, heir to the Singer Sewing Machine fortune, who was born in Cooperstown and built Hotel Otesaga there. To reverse the decline of the town (and the hotel) during Prohibition and the Depression, Clark leveraged the unlikely legend that Cooperstown (named for James Fennimore Cooper’s family) was the hallowed place where Abner Doubleday, a Civil War veteran, “invented” the game of baseball in 1839. Never mind the fact that Doubleday was at West Point in 1839, and references to baseball games in America date back to the 18th century. History now accepts that Alexander Cartwright developed baseball’s first rules in the 1840s for New York City’s Knickerbocker Base Ball Club. Abner Doubleday has never been inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Tuesday, June 11, 2013
Explorer and researcher Jacques-Yves Cousteau was born on June 11, 1910, in southwestern France. He served in the French navy and began diving in the 1930s with an early modern version of a breathing apparatus. In 1943 he co-invented and tested the Aqua-Lung, which was the original name of the first self-contained underwater breathing apparatus (SCUBA) to attain commercial success. He helped pioneer the use of a demand valve that regulated use of air in cylinders, making extended underwater exploration possible. Cousteau’s book The Silent World (1953) tells of the earliest days of scuba diving off the French Riviera. It led to an Academy Award-winning documentary of the same name (1956), which was filmed aboard his diving and research vessel, the Calypso. Both works, along with his TV series “The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau” (1968-1975), exposed people for the first time to a vast, astonishing and sometimes frightening world of underwater life, which he called “the world of rapture.”
Monday, June 10, 2013
Actress and singer Judy Garland was born Frances Ethel Gumm on June 10, 1922, in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, to vaudevillian parents. Spotted while performing with her two older sisters, she was signed at age 13 to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which teamed her with Mickey Rooney in a series of “backyard musicals.” Both actors were regularly given amphetamines to meet filming schedules, coupled with barbiturates to sleep at night. Standing only 4’ 11” and lacking the beauty of other young actresses of the time, her deep insecurity about herself was worsened by MGM’s decision to cast her as the “girl next door,” dressed in plain or juvenile costumes. The studio also forced her to wear removable caps on her teeth and used rubberized disks to reshape her nose. At age 15 she was cast as Dorothy Gale in “The Wizard of Oz” (1939) only because Shirley Temple and Deanna Durbin were unavailable. Judy initially wore a blond wig and heavy, "baby-doll" makeup for the part. Her blue gingham dress was chosen to downplay her physical appearance.
Sunday, June 9, 2013
40 years ago: On June 9, 1973, Thoroughbred racehorse Secretariat won the Triple Crown of horseracing in the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park, Long Island. The large chestnut stallion, nicknamed “Big Red,” set records that stand today in the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont. In the Derby, he ran each quarter-mile segment faster than the one before it, winning by 2½ lengths. In the Preakness, he made an amazing, last-to-first move on the first turn and won unchallenged by 2½ lengths. In the running of the Belmont, with only four horses competing against him, Secretariat opened a gaping lead (1/16 mile) in the stretch and won by 31 lengths, a record-breaking margin-of-victory (pictured). He had run the fastest 1½ miles on dirt in history (2:24 flat). In 1989, afflicted with laminitis, a hoof condition, he was euthanized and afforded the rare honor of being buried whole (usually only the head, heart and hooves of a winning race horse are buried). A necropsy showed that Secretariat had one of the largest hearts ever known in a racehorse (estimated at 22 pounds).
Saturday, June 8, 2013
Architect Frank Lloyd Wright was born on June 8, 1867, near Madison, Wisconsin. The child of a broken home, he became a draftsman in Chicago, worked with architect Louis Sullivan, and built up his own practice in the 1890s. By 1900 he had designed homes in the “Prairie School” style, marked by horizontal lines that complemented the landscape. Between 1934 and 1937 Wright designed and built his most celebrated private residence, Fallingwater, for department store magnate Edgar Kaufmann, Sr., at a site southeast of Pittsburgh. Early in the process, Kaufman paid a surprise visit on Wright to see the first architectural drawings – which did not exist. During the two-hour wait for Kaufmann's arrival, nervous apprentices watched Wright draw plans for a three-level, concrete-and-stone structure cantilevered above a waterfall. Kaufmann was not pleased, since he had wanted to view the falls from below. Wright’s cantilevered terraces were structurally unsound from the beginning; repairs to the home were made in 2002 at a cost of more than $11 million.
Friday, June 7, 2013
Industrial and graphic designer Brooks Stevens was born on June 7, 1911, in Milwaukee. His father helped him conquer polio as a child by motivating him to draw, build models and swim. He studied architecture at Cornell University (1929-1933), then started a design firm in Milwaukee, patterning his work after Raymond Loewy and other “streamline” designers of the era. Stevens’ work left a major imprint on modern design: the wide-mouth peanut butter jar; the first clothes dryer with a glass window; a station wagon version of the Jeep (“Jeepster,” 1942); the streamlined “Olympian Hiawatha” train (1947) for the Milwaukee Road, with an all-glass Skytop Lounge car; the Miller High Life logo and packaging; the Studebaker GT Hawk and the Lark (1962); Evinrude boats, including the Runabout; a key version of the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile; the boomerang ("Skylark") graphic for Formica; and Harley-Davidson motorcycles, including the 1949 Hydra-Glide Harley. All Harleys are based on Stevens’ body designs. In 1954 he coined the term “planned obsolescence.”
Thursday, June 6, 2013
America’s first drive-in theater was opened on June 6, 1933, in Camden, NJ, by Richard Hollingshead, Jr., a young sales manager at his father’s auto products firm. Hollingshead wanted to combine his interests in movies and cars, so he aimed for an open-air theater where patrons could watch from their cars. He experimented in his driveway in Camden by mounting a 1928 Kodak projector on the hood of his car, projecting film onto a screen nailed to backyard trees, and placing a radio behind the screen to test the audio. He also worked out parking patterns to allow for sightlines. With an investment of $30,000, the drive-in’s admission was 25 cents for each car and 25 cents per person. Sound was a key problem, since three speakers near the 40 x 50 foot screen resulted in sound delay for cars at the rear (and ambient noise pollution). RCA offered in-car speakers in 1941. Drive-ins reached their peak in the late 1950s and early 1960s, numbering 4,000 in the United States – many of them known as “passion pits” for teenagers on dates.