May 27th

Hubert Humphrey was born in Wallace, South Dakota, on this date in 1911. Humphrey was first elected mayor of Minneapolis in 1945 and U.S. Senator in 1948. Senator Humphrey introduced his first bill in 1949; it became law in 1965 and we know it as Medicare. Humphrey became Vice President with the election of President Lyndon Johnson in 1964. After Johnson withdrew from the 1968 campaign, and after Robert Kennedy was killed, Humphrey was nominated as the Democratic candidate for President. He lost to Richard Nixon in one of the closest elections in history. Some commented that with the vote trending as it did, had the election been one or two days later Humphrey would have won.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Herman Wouk is 99 today. Wouk served in the United States Navy during World War II, background for his great novel The Caine Mutiny. Other works include Majorie Morningstar, Youngblood Hawke, and The Winds of War and War and Remembrance.

Henry Kissinger is 91. They say the good die young.

Lou Gossett Jr. is 78 today. Gossett won the Oscar for best supporting actor for his portrayal of Gunnery Sgt. Emil Foley in An Officer and a Gentleman and an Emmy as the slave Fiddler in Roots.

Roz is 53 today. That’s actress Peri Gilpin of Frasier.

Todd Bridges is 49 today. “Watchoo talkin’ ’bout, Willis?”

Best-selling mystery author Tony Hillerman was born in Sacred Heart, Oklahoma, on this date in 1925; he died in Albuquerque in 2008. The Shape Shifter was the 18th and last in Hillerman’s series centered on Navajo Tribal policemen Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee. Hillerman told us that:

Leaphorn emerged from a young Hutchinson County, Texas, sheriff who I met and came to admire in 1948 when I was a very green ‘crime and violence” reporter for a paper in the high plains of the Panhandle. He was smart, he was honest, he was wise and humane in his use of police powers–my idealistic young idea of what every cop should be but sometimes isn’t. 
. . . 

Jim Chee emerged several books later. I like to claim he was born from an artistic need for a younger, less sophisticated fellow to make the plot of PEOPLE OF DARKNESS make sense–and that is mostly true. Chee is a mixture of a couple of hundred of those idealistic, romantic, reckless youngsters I had been lecturing to at the University of New Mexico, with their yearnings for Miniver Cheever’s “Days of Old” modified into his wish to keep the Navajo Value System healthy in universe of consumerism.

John Cheever was born on this date in 1912.

He wrote for more than 50 years and published more than 200 short stories. He’s known for writing about the world of American suburbia. Even though he was one of the most popular short-story writers of the 20th century, he once said that he only earned “enough money to feed the family and buy a new suit every other year.”

In 1935 he was published in The New Yorker for the first time, and he would continue to write for the magazine for the rest of his life. His stories were collected in books including The Way Some People Live (1943) and The Enormous Radio and Other Stories (1953). The Stories of John Cheever, published in 1978, won the Pulitzer Prize and became one of the few collections of short stories ever to make the New York Times best-seller list.

The Writer’s Almanac (2008)

Cheever died in 1982.

Sam Snead was born on May 27th in 1912. Snead won 82 PGA events; seven majors — three Masters, three PGA Championships and a British Open. Great as he was, he never won the big one.

Vincent Price, an actor noted primarily for his horror and suspense roles, was born 103 years ago today.

Rachel Carson was born on this date in 1907. Carson’s writing, most notably Silent Spring (1962), was instrumental in establishing environmental awareness. Silent Spring lead to a ban on DDT and the creation of the EPA.

Mystery writer Samuel Dashiell Hammett was born on this date in 1894.  Hammett departed from the intellectualized mysteries of earlier detective novels (Sherlock Holmes for example) and transformed the genre with his less-than-glamorous realism. He is considered one of the most influential writers of the 20th century.  

Hammett actually was a detective with Pinkerton for a few years just before World War I. Contracting TB during military service, he realized his health would keep him from resuming as a detective. He turned to writing. He published his first story in 1922, and then about 80 more, many in the popular pulp crime magazine Black Mask. Hammett’s first novel was Red Harvest, published in 1929. His most famous character, Sam Spade, made his appearance in Hammett’s third novel, The Maltese Falcon (1930). (It was the third—and only successful—attempt to turn that novel into a film when Humphrey Bogart played the role in 1941.) The Thin Man (1934) was the last of Hammett’s novels. 

By the early-thirties, Hammett was established and famous. He began a relationship with playwright Lillian Hellman that lasted for 30 years despite his drinking and womanizing. Though both eventually divorced their spouses, they never married. Hammett served in the Army in World War II, enlisting as a private at age 48. His involvement in left-wing politics and unwillingness to testify about it before Congress however, and the continued drinking, diminished his stature. Hammett died in 1961.

James Butler Hickok was born May 27, 1837. As Wild Bill Hickok, he was killed while playing poker at Nuttal & Mann’s Saloon No. 10 in Deadwood, Dakota Territory, at age 39. It’s said he was holding a pair of aces and a pair of eights, all black (but most doubt the tale).