The 12th of July

Today is the birthday

… of Bill Cosby. He’s 77.

… of Christine McVie of Fleetwood Mac. She’s 71.

… of Gaius Julius Caesar, born on July 12th around 100 BCE (some say July 13th). Caesar was named for his father, Gaius Julius Caesar III, and he had two sisters, both named Julia. If Caesar was named for a caesarean section, it was an ancestor’s birth, not his. The explanation for the name that Julius Caesar himself seemed to favor was that it came from the Moorish word caesai for elephant.

Caesar, of course, died on March 15, 44 BCE. Caesar never said “Et tu, Brute?” That’s Shakespeare (though not original with him). Some contemporaries said Caesar did say “καὶ σύ, τέκνον,” Greek for “You too, child.” If he said it, it may have been intended as a curse (this will happen to you) as much as a feeling of abandonment by Brutus.

It was Julius Caesar who fixed the calendar at 365 days with a leap day every fourth year. His formula had to be tweaked in 1582 with three less leap years every 400 years, but it stands pretty much as Caesar established it, the Julian Calendar, in 46 BCE.

Henry David Thoreau was born on this date in 1817; George Eastman, the inventor of roll film, in 1854; George Washington Carver in 1864; Jean Hersholt in 1886 and Buckminster Fuller in 1895. Hersholt was in 140 films, most famously as Heidi’s grandfather with Shirley Temple. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences named its service award for Hersholt, who was president of the Academy and longtime president of the Motion Picture Relief Fund.

Oscar Hammerstein II was born on July 12th, 1895. Hammerstein won eight Tonys and two Oscars — for “The Last Time I Saw Paris,” and “It Might as Well Be Spring.”


It Ought to Be a Holiday

Levi Stubbles was born in Detroit 78 years ago today. As Levi Stubbs for more than 40 years he was the lead vocalist of The Four Tops.

The Four Tops were one of soul music’s most popular and long-lived vocal groups. This quartet from Detroit endured for more than 40 years without a single change in personnel. …

The Four Tops consisted of lead singer Levi Stubbs, first tenor Abdul “Duke” Fakir, second tenor Lawrence Payton, and baritone Renaldo “Obie” Benson. Working closely with the in-house songwriting and production team of Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland, the Four Tops cut some of Motown’s most memorable singles during the label’s mid-Sixties zenith. The list of classics recorded by the Four Tops during this fruitful period includes “Baby I Need Your Loving,” “I Can’t Help Myself,” “It’s the Same Old Song,” “Reach Out I’ll Be There,” “Standing in the Shadows of Love” and “Bernadette.” Between 1964 and 1988, the Four Tops made Billboard’s Hot 100 chart 45 times and its R&B chart 52 times. Twenty-four of their singles made the Top 40, and seven of those entered the Top 10.

While their career took off at Motown, the Four Tops had a significant prehistory before arriving at the label, having already logged nearly a decade in show business. Stubbs and Fakir attended Pershing High School in Detroit’s North End, while Payton and Benson attended Detroit’s Northern High School. The four young men met at a friend’s birthday party, where they first sang together. …

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

It’s Stubbs who sings:

Now if you feel that you can’t go on
Because all of your hope is gone
And your life is filled with much confusion
Until happiness is just an illusion
And your world around is tumbling down
Darling reach out
C’mon girl
Reach on out for me
Reach out for me

You will note it was never Levi Stubbs and the Tops, unlike Smokey Robinson and the Miracles or Diana Ross and the Supremes. Stubbs had the opportunity to lead or go solo, but he stayed loyal to his friends for life. He died in 2008.


Pat Boone

. . . is 80 today.

Boone had grandchildren at the same school NewMexiKen’s children attended nearly 40 years ago. He showed up at “Back to School Night” once or twice, and I have to admit he was about the handsomest, youngest looking grandpa you’d ever see. Of course, he was only 41 or 42.

It’s hard to believe I was ever so young I thought 41 was old enough that someone could “look good” for 41?

Only Elvis sold more records than Pat Boone in the late 1950s.


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).


Hubert Humphrey, Mayor, Senator, Vice President, Typist

Hubert Humphrey was born 103 years ago today. He was, I think, a genuinely great American politician.

Among the many then secret documents I came across at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library when I was an archivist there long ago, was a lengthy single-spaced typewritten memo from Vice President Humphrey to President Johnson. Humphrey had been to Vietnam and wanted to report his observations directly. Because the document was secret I couldn’t keep a copy, but I remember Humphrey being perceptive about what was really happening.

But mostly I remember the P.S. — the Vice President of the United States apologized to the President of the United States for the typing. Humphrey said he’d come into the office on Sunday and no one was available, so he had typed the memo himself.


More May 26th

Brent Musburger is 75.

Stevie Nicks Rolling Stone

Stevie Nicks is 66 today.

Finally, the platinum edition of Fleetwood Mac came together in 1975 with the recruitment of Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. The San Francisco duo had previously cut an album together as Buckingham-Nicks. Drummer Fleetwood heard a tape of theirs at a studio he was auditioning, and the pair were drafted into the group without so much as a formal audition. This lineup proved far and away to be Fleetwood Mac’s most durable and successful. In addition to the most solid rhythm section in rock, this classic lineup contained strong vocalists and songwriters in Buckingham, Nicks and Christine McVie. Male and female points of view were offered with unusual candor on the watershed albums Fleetwood Mac (1975) and Rumours (1977).

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Lenny Kravitz is 50. Helena Bonham Carter is 48.

John Wayne was born Marion Robert Morrison 107 years ago today. (His middle name was later changed to Mitchell so his parents could name their next son Robert.)

In more than 200 films made over 50 years, John Wayne saddled up to become the greatest figure of one of America’s greatest native art forms, the western.

The movies he starred in rode the range from out-of-the-money sagebrush quickies to such classics as “Stagecoach” and “Red River.” He won an Oscar as best actor for another western, “True Grit,” in 1969. Yet some of the best films he made told stories far from the wilds of the West, such as “The Quiet Man” and “The Long Voyage Home.”

In the last decades of his career, Mr. Wayne became something of an American folk figure, hero to some, villain to others, for his outspoken views. He was politically a conservative and, although he scorned politics as a way of life for himself, he enthusiastically supported Richard M. Nixon, Barry Goldwater, Spiro T. Agnew, Ronald Reagan and others who, he felt, fought for his concept of Americanism and anti- Communism.

The New York Times [Obituary, 1979]

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Photographer Dorothea Lange was born on May 26th in 1895. That’s her most famous photo, “Migrant Mother,” taken in 1936.

Dancer Isadora Duncan was born on this date in 1877.

Engineer, designer of the Brooklyn Bridge, Washington Roebling was born on May 26th 1837. And, according to the Smithsonian Civil War Studies :

From a hot air balloon on a sunny late-June morning in 1863, Roebling was the first to spy Robert E. Lee’s army heading toward Gettysburg. During the ensuing battle, when General Warren ordered that Little Round Top be reinforced, Roebling helped place the first cannon, which effectively defended the site and directly contributed to the subsequent Union victory. He was awarded three brevets for gallant conduct and ended his military career as a Colonel.

Roebling’s wife Emily was the younger sister of General Gouverneur K. Warren, hero of Gettysburg. Roebling served on Warren’s staff.

James Arness — Marshall Dillon — was born May 26, 1923. He died in 2011.

The first woman in space, Sally K. Ride, was born on May 26, 1951. She died in 2012.


May 26th

Levon Helm was born May 26, 1940. It’s his voice you know from “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” “Up on Cripple Creek,” “Rag Mama Rag,” and “The Weight.” He died in 2012.

The Band, more than any other group, put rock and roll back in touch with its roots. With their ageless songs and solid grasp of musical idioms, the Band reached across the decades, making connections for a generation that was, as an era of violent cultural schisms wound down, in desperate search of them. They projected a sense of community in the turbulent late Sixties and early Seventies – a time when the fabric of community in the United States was fraying. Guitarist Robbie Robertson drew from history in his evocative, cinematic story-songs, and the vocal triumvirate of bassist Rick Danko, drummer Levon Helm and keyboardist Richard Manuel joined in rustic harmony and traded lines in rich, conversational exchanges. Multi-instrumentalist Garth Hudson provided musical coloration in period styles that evoked everything from rural carnivals of the early 20th century to rock and roll revues of the Fifties.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Norma Deloris Egstrom was born on May 26th in 1920. We know her as Peggy Lee. Miss Lee began with the Benny Goodman band in 1941, then recorded on her own beginning later in the 1940s. Her signature song is Little Willie John’s “Fever,” recorded by Lee in 1958. She also wrote a number of songs, including “He’s a Tramp” and “The Siamese Cat Song” for Lady and the Tramp. Lee received a supporting actress Oscar nomination for her performance in Pete Kelly’s Blues. She died in 2002.

Harold J. Smith was born in Branford, Ontario, on this date in 1912. He was a member of the Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation (Canadian Mohawk). Harry Smith boxed Golden Gloves and played lacrosse. Eventually he found his way to movies and then television where, as Jay Silverheels, he played Tonto in The Lone Ranger TV series, 1949-1957. He died in 1980.

Ben Alexander was born on this date in 1911. A veteran actor who began at age 5, Alexander is best known for playing Detective Frank Smith on the first TV run of Dragnet in the 1950s. (Harry Morgan had the Jack Webb’s sidekick role in the second run.) Alexander has three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Al Jolson was born Asa Yoelson in Lithuania, then part of the Russian Empire, on May 26, 1886. The biggest star on Broadway and vaudeville even before the movie The Jazz Singer in 1927, by the 1930s he was America’s most famous and highest paid entertainer. It can be said, that as Elvis Presley married country and blues, Al Jolson wedded Jewish performing style with jazz, blues and ragtime, and so made “race music” acceptable to the wider audience.

Mamie Robinson Smith was born on May 26th in 1883. She was a vaudeville performer and the first African American singer to make vocal blues recordings. Smith’s “Crazy Blues” — a Grammy Hall of Fame record and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Song That Shaped Rock and Roll — was recorded in 1920. It sold over a million copies in its first year. She was billed “Queen of the Blues” — but of course, Bessie Smith came right behind and Bessie was “Empress of the Blues.”