February 12th

It sure as hell ought to be a national holiday. Not only the debut of “Rhapsody in Blue” (1924), Abraham Lincoln (1809) and Charles Darwin (1809), but it’s the birthday of Bill Russell for heaven’s sake! And Alice Roosevelt! And Omar Bradley!

[Note, I used “heaven” and “hell” in the same short paragraph. And some of you think I am not religious.]

Bill Russell - Sportsman of the Year - December 23, 1968

Bill Russell is 80. Back-to-back NCAA championships at the University of San Francisco, 1955-1956 — 55 consecutive wins. Eleven NBA championships with the Celtics in 13 years, 1957-1969 — Russell was the only player there for all 11. Simply the greatest winner in basketball history. (And the best laugh.)

Today is also the birthday

… of Joe Garagiola, 88.

… of author Judy Blume. She was born Judith Sussman 76 years ago today.

Ray Manzarek died last May; he would have been 75 today.

The Doors formed in the summer of 1965 around Morrison and Manzarek, who’d met at UCLA’s film school. A year later the group signed with Elektra Records, recording six landmark studio LPs and a live album for the label. They achieved popular success and critical acclaim for their 1967 debut, The Doors (which included their eleven-minute epic “The End” and “Light My Fire,” a Number One hit at the height of the Summer of Love), and all the other albums that followed.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Lorne Greene (aka Ben Cartwright) was born on this date in 1915.

One of four appearances of John L. Lewis on the cover of Time, this from December 1946.

John L. Lewis was born on February 12, 1880. Lewis was president of the United Mine Workers (UMW), 1920-1960. In the 1930s, with others, he formed the Congress of Industrial Organizations. The CIO lead the unionization of steel, rubber, auto, glass, electrical equipment and meat industries. He withdrew the UMW from the CIO however, supported Wilkie against FDR in 1940, and took his miners out on strike during World War II. He remained popular with miners, of course, but his reputation and that of organized labor suffered. Even so, Lewis was awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964.

Alice Roosevelt Longworth, Teddy Roosevelt’s daughter and Speaker of the House Nicholas Longworth’s wife, was born on February 12th in 1884. Ms. Longworth was prominent in Washington until her death in 1980. This despite the fact — or maybe because of it — that her only child was not with her husband, but a result of her affair with Senator William Borah. Embroidered on her sofa pillow was “If you haven’t got anything good to say about anybody, come sit next to me.”

Omar Bradley, the G.I General, was born on this date in 1893.

General Omar Bradley - Time - December 4, 1944

Except for his original division assignments, Bradley won his wartime advancement on the battlefield, commanding American soldiers in North Africa, Sicily, across the Normandy beaches, and into Germany itself. His understated personal style of command left newsmen with little to write about, especially when they compared him to the more flamboyant among the Allied commanders, but his reputation as a fighter was secure among his peers and particularly with General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander, who considered him indispensable.

Self-effacing and quiet, Bradley showed a concern for the men he led that gave him the reputation as the “soldier’s general.” That same concern made him the ideal choice in 1945 to reinvigorate the Veterans Administration and prepare it to meet the needs of millions of demobilized servicemen. After he left active duty, both political and military leaders continued to seek Bradley’s advice. Perhaps more importantly, he remained in close touch with the Army and served its succeeding generations as the ideal model of a professional soldier.

U.S. Army Center of Military History

And it’s the birthday of artist Thomas Moran, born on this date in 1837. The National Gallery of Art has an outstanding online exhibit on Moran. Click the image for a larger replica of his classic painting “Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.”