May 28, 2016

jerry-west-nba-logoJerry West is 78 today.

Jerry West was on the fast track to stardom from the day he touched a basketball. Throughout the NBA’s history, it would be hard to find a better pure shooter. At West Virginia University, West led the Mountaineers to the NCAA Finals and captured the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award in 1959. In a superlative senior season, West was a consensus All-America and led West Virginia to its third consecutive conference championship. In Los Angeles, West played virtually his entire career with Hall of Famer Elgin Baylor, and five years with Wilt Chamberlain. When the game was on the line, West’s Los Angeles Laker teammates always found a way to get the ball to “Mr. Clutch.” His cool, calm, and collected personality and his leadership on the court was a coach’s dream. When he retired, West’s name was on nearly every page of the record books. He scored 25,192 points (third), averaged 27.0 ppg (fourth), made 7,160 free throws (second), dished out 6,238 assists (fifth). West was equally adept on the defensive end, named to the NBA All-Defensive First-Team four times.

Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame

Gladys Knight is 72. The Pips are various ages.

Gladys Knight and the Pips – brother Merald “Bubba” Knight and cousins Edward Patten and William Guest – are one of the most respected and longest-lived soul groups, with hits spanning four decades. Knight was born in Atlanta, Georgia, where she began singing at age four with her brother and cousins at Baptist church functions. The group first recorded for the Brunswick label in 1958 and dented the charts with “Every Beat of My Heart” and “Letter Full of Tears,” both released in 1961 on Fury Records. After a few more singles and personnel changes, which cemented Gladys Knight and the Pips in their most enduring and best-known lineup, the group signed with Motown’s Soul label in 1966. Motown founder Berry Gordy, who saw them perform at Harlem’s Apollo Theater in 1966, made note of Knight’s “class, artistry and stage presence….She could talk to an audience and articulate what she wanted to say with just the right words.”

At Motown, Gladys Knight and the Pips quickly rose to prominence with their version of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” (#1 R&B, #2 pop), which boasted more of an uptempo, gospel-style arrangement than Marvin Gaye’s classic version from the following year.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

John Fogerty is 71 today. Fogerty was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993 with Creedence Clearwater Revival.

“In 1968, I always used to say that I wanted to make records they would still play on the radio in 10 years,” John Fogerty, former leader of Creedence Clearwater Revival, said on the eve of the group’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In retrospect, Fogerty got all he wished for and more. Four decades later, Creedence’s songs – including “Proud Mary,” “Born on the Bayou,” “Bad Moon Rising” and “Green River” – endure as timeless rock and roll classics. Under Fogerty’s tutelage, Creedence Clearwater Revival defined the spirit and sound of rock and roll as authentically as any American group ever has.


DionneThe Dionne Quintuplets were born in Corbeil, Ontario, Canada, 82 years ago today.

  • Annette Lillianne Marie Dionne
  • Cécile Marie Emilda Dionne
  • Emilie Marie Jeanne Dionne (died 1954)
  • Marie Reina Alma Dionne (died 1970)
  • Yvonne Edouilda Marie Dionne (died 2001)

Together, the five girls, at least two months premature, weighed about 14 pounds. They were put by an open stove to keep warm, and mothers from surrounding villages brought breast milk for them. Against all expectations, they survived their first weeks.

According to the CBC Archives:

When the quints are still babies, the Ontario government takes the sisters from their parents, apparently to protect their fragile health, and makes the girls wards of the state. For the first nine years of their lives, they live at a hospital in their hometown that becomes a tourist mecca called “Quintland.” The Ministry of Public Welfare sets up a trust fund in their behalf with assurances that the financial well-being of the entire Dionne family would be taken care of “for all their normal needs for the rest of their lives.”

Between 1934 and 1943, about 3 million people visit Quintland. The government and nearby businesses make an estimated half-billion dollars off the tourists, much of which the Dionne family never sees. The sisters are the nation’s biggest tourist attraction — bigger than Niagara Falls.

After nine years and a bitter custody fight, the girls rejoined their family.

There is still a mystery surrounding what happened to the money the Ontario government placed in a trust fund for the quints, though it’s believed that most of the funds went to pay for the many employees of “Quintland.”

In 1998 the surviving quints were awarded $4 million by Ontario.


And the greatest athlete of the first half of the 20th century was born near Prague, Oklahoma, on this date in 1888. His Sac and Fox given name was Wa-Tho-Huk (Bright Path). We know him as Jim Thorpe. Thorpe was named by ESPN as the 7th greatest athlete of the 20th century (after Jordan, Ruth, Ali, Brown, Gretsky and Owens). Read the biographical essay, Thorpe preceded Deion, Bo. A couple of items from the biography:

  • Thorpe won both the decathlon and the pentathlon at the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm. Swedish King Gustav V told him, “Sir, you are the greatest athlete in the world.” Thorpe reputedly replied, “Thanks, king.”
  • Jim Thorpe was a twin. His brother Charles died of pneumonia at age 8.

May 18th Should Be a National Holiday

Reggie Jackson is 70 today.

Named the World Series MVP in 1973 and 1977, Jackson’s star seemed to shine its brightest on baseball’s grandest stage. In five World Series, Jackson hit 10 home runs and 24 RBI while batting .357, nearly 100 points higher than his career average. His most memorable moment in the Fall Classic came in Game 6 of the 1977 series when Reggie hit three home runs on three pitches, earning the nickname “Mr. October”. Dodgers first baseman Steve Garvey later said “I must admit, when Reggie hit his third home run and I was sure nobody was looking, I applauded in my glove”.

National Baseball Hall of Fame

Brooks Robinson is 79.

Robinson began his career with the Baltimore Orioles, the only team he ever played for, in 1955, and for 23 years dazzled fans on the field with his glove. Off the field, he was humble and gracious. Joe Falls of The Detroit News pondered “How many interviews, how many questions — how many times you approached him and got only courtesy and decency in return. A true gentleman who never took himself seriously. I always had the idea he didn’t know he was Brooks Robinson.”

In total, the 18-time All-Star and winner of a record 16 consecutive Gold Glove Awards led the Orioles to six post-seasons including two World Series Championships.

National Baseball Hall of Fame

Frank Capra was born in Bisaquino, Sicily, on May 18th in 1897.

He was the first to win three directorial Oscars — for “It Happened One Night” (1934), “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town” (1936) and “You Can’t Take It With You” (1938). The motion picture academy also voted the first and third movies the best of the year.

Capra movies were idealistic, sentimental and patriotic. His major films embodied his flair for improvisation and spontaneity, buoyant humor and sympathy for the populist beliefs of the 1930’s.

Generations of moviegoers and television viewers have reveled in the hitch-hiking antics of Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert in “It Happened One Night;” in Gary Cooper’s whimsical self-defense of Longfellow Deeds at a hilarious sanity hearing in “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town;” in the impassioned filibuster by James Stewart as an incorruptible Senator in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” in Mr. Cooper’s battle to prevent a power-crazed industrialist from taking dictatorial control of the country in “Meet John Doe,” and in Mr. Stewart’s salvation by a guardian angel in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

The New York Times

And Tina Fey is 46 today.

May 17th

Horace E. Dodge was born on May 17th in 1868; he should have been built Ford-tough, he died at age 52. With his brother John, the Dodge Brothers supplied early automakers with engines, including Henry Ford and Ransom E. Olds. In 1914, they began building their own vehicles, with a much more modern design. Ford bought out the Dodges, who were partners in the Ford Motor Company, for $25 million. John died in January 1920; Horace in December. Their widows sold the company in 1925 for $146 million; Walter Chrysler bought it in 1928 for $170 million.

Jane Parker (Tarzan’s Jane) and Mia Farrow’s mom was born on this date in 1911. That’s actress Maureen O’Sullivan.

The New York Stock Exchange was founded on what is now Wall Street on May 17th in 1792.

May 5th Should Be a National Holiday

New York World photo to promote Bly's around-the-world voyage.
New York World photo to promote Bly’s around-the-world voyage.

Nellie Bly was born on May 5th in 1864.

Nellie Bly was born Elizabeth Jane Cochran in 1864. In the 1880s and 1890s, as a reporter for Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World, she was a pioneer in investigative reporting. Before the “muckrakers” of the early 20th century publicized corruption and today’s investigative reporters sought the ‘story behind the story,” Bly was one of the first to “go behind the scenes” to expose the ills of society. At considerable personal risk, she had herself committed to a mental institution so she could study first-hand how the mentally ill were treated. As a result of her “expose,” the care of the mentally ill was reformed. The New York Journal recognized her as the “best reporter in America.”

National Women’s Hall of Fame

She went down into the sea in a diving bell and up in the air in a balloon and lived in an insane asylum as a patient; but the feat that made her famous was her trip around the world in 1889. She was sent by The World to beat the mark of Phileas Fogg, Jules Verne’s hero of “Around the World in Eighty Days,” and she succeeded, making the tour in 72 days 6 hours 11 minutes. Every one who read newspapers followed her progress and she landed in New York a national character.

The New York Times

The Last Day of April Should Be a National Holiday

It’s Willie Nelson’s birthday.

He’s 82.

Annie Dillard is 70 today. Ms. Dillard won the Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction for Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (1974). The New York Times has a page with links to several reviews and articles about Dillard and her works. (Eudora Welty wrote the review of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.) And Ms. Dillard has a web site.

Basketball hall-of-famer Isiah Thomas turns 54 today.

Radio and television actress Eve Arden was born on April 30th in 1908. To my generation she was Our Miss Brooks, English teacher at Madison High. The show was on radio from 1948-1957 and TV from 1952-1956. Many considered it a breakthrough character for women. That’s Our Miss Brooks in the photo with Richard Crenna as Walter Denton and Gale Gordon as Principal Osgood Conklin.

Casey Jones wrecked his train on April 30th in 1900.

John Luther Jones from Cayce (pronounced Cay-see), Kentucky, famous to us through song as a brave engineer who romantically died trying to make up time. In truth, he crashed his locomotive at high speed into a freight train that was attempting to get out of the way on a siding. According to reports he failed to heed warning signals that were out. The accident took place early in the morning of April 30, 1900. Jones was the only fatality. Jones was known for his affability and his skill in blowing a train whistle. His engine wiper, Wallace Saunders, reportedly idolized the engineer. Saunders wrote the original song. All you might want to know can be found in this 1928 article.

George Washington took office as the first president of the U.S. on this date in 1789. His term began March 4th, but because neither the House nor Senate achieved a quorum until April, Washington’s unanimous election on February 4, wasn’t made official until April 14. Washington immediately departed Mount Vernon for New York to take the oath and was met along the way with parades and dinners in every little town. As James Madison noted, Washington was about the only aspect of the new government that really appealed to people.

Louisiana entered the union as the 18th state on this date in 1812.

April 26

Today is the birthday of Carol Burnett, 82, and Bobby Rydell, 73.

Duane Eddy was born on this date in 1938, which would make him 77 today. Eddy was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994.

One of the earliest guitar heroes, Duane Eddy put the twang in rock and roll. “Twang” is a reverberating, bass-heavy guitar sound boasted by primitive studio wizardry. Concocted by Eddy and producer Lee Hazlewood in 1957, twang came to represent the sound of revved-up hot rods and an echo of the Wild West on the frontier of rock and roll. Eddy obtained his trademark sound by picking on the low strings of a Chet Atkins-model Gretsch 6120 hollowbody guitar, turning up the tremolo and running the signal through an echo chamber. Behind the mighty sound of twang, Eddy became the most successful instrumentalist in rock history, charting fifteen Top Forty singles in the late Fifties and early Sixties. He has sold more than 100 million records worldwide. No less an authority than John Fogerty has declared, “Duane Eddy was the front guy, the first rock and roll guitar god.” Eddy’s influence is widespread in rock and roll. A twangy guitar drove Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run,” and twang echoes in the work of the Beatles, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Dave Edmunds, Chris Isaak and many more.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum

Cannonball,” “Rebel Rouser,” “Forty Miles of Bad Road” — they make me want to cruise Speedway Boulevard all over again.

Bernard Malamud was born on this date in 1914. Malamud twice won the National Book Award (The Magic Barrel, The Fixer) and the 1967 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (The Fixer). He’s also the author of The Natural.

Gertrude Pridgett was born on this date in 1886. She began performing in 1900, singing and dancing in minstrel shows. In 1902, she married performer William “Pa” Rainey and became known as Ma Rainey.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum has this to say about inductee Ma Rainey:

If Bessie Smith is the acknowledged “Queen of the Blues,” then Gertrude “Ma” Rainey is the undisputed “Mother of the Blues.” As music historian Chris Albertson has written, “If there was another woman who sang the blues before Rainey, nobody remembered hearing her.” Rainey fostered the blues idiom, and she did so by linking the earthy spirit of country blues with the classic style and delivery of Bessie Smith. She often played with such outstanding jazz accompanists as Louis Armstrong and Fletcher Henderson, but she was more at home fronting a jugband or washboard band.

Jealous Hearted Blues

Frederick Law Olmsted was born on this date in 1822. He was America’s foremost landscape architect of the 19th century and the designer of New York’s Central Park.

John James Audubon was born on this date in 1785.

John_James_Audubons_Plate_76_-_Birds_of_America_(Virginian_Partridge)