Man of Principle

Ernie Davis, the first African-American to win the Heisman Trophy, was born on this date in 1939. Davis played for Syracuse — he was on their undefeated National Championship team as a sophomore in 1959 — and wore the same number as Jim Brown, 44. He was the number one pick in the 1962 NFL draft, selected by the Washington franchise. Davis was the first African-American drafted by the Washington team, and then only under pressure from Stewart Udall who, as Secretary of the Interior, controlled the stadium where the team played. Davis refused to play for Washington, hence the trade to Cleveland. During the summer of 1962 Davis was diagnosed with acute monocytic leukemia; he died the following May.


October 22nd Really Should Be a Holiday

Curly Howard (Jerome Lester Horwitz) was born on this date in 1903. The most popular of the Three Stooges, Curly had no formal training and was often improvising. According to older brother Moe Howard, “If we were going through a scene and he’d forget his words for a moment, you know. Rather than stand, get pale and stop, you never knew what he was going to do. On one occasion he’d get down to the floor and spin around like a top until he remembered what he had to say.” It’s said Curly squandered all his money on wine, food, women, homes, cars, and especially dogs. Sounds like good choices, but they took their toll. Curly Howard died at age 48 in 1952 after a series of strokes.

“N’yuk, n’yuk, n’yuk.”


In Any Civilized Nation Today Would Be a Holiday

Two country music immortals were born on September 8th.

Jimmie Rodgers, considered the “Father of Country Music,” was born in Meridian, Mississippi, on September 8, 1897. He died from TB in 1933. Jimmie Rodgers was the first person inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and among the first inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

James Charles Rodgers, known professionally as the Singing Brakeman and America’s Blue Yodeler, was the first performer inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. He was honored as the Father of Country Music, “the man who started it all.” From many diverse elements—the traditional melodies and folk music of his southern upbringing, early jazz, stage show yodeling, the work chants of railroad section crews and, most importantly, African-American blues—Rodgers evolved a lasting musical style which made him immensely popular in his own time and a major influence on generations of country artists.

Blue Yodel No. 9

Patsy Cline, the most popular female country singer in recording history, was born in Winchester, Virginia, on September 8, 1932. She died in a plane crash in 1963. Patsy Cline is an inductee of the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Cline is invariably invoked as a standard for female vocalists, and she has inspired scores of singers including k. d. lang, Loretta Lynn, Linda Ronstadt, Trisha Yearwood, and Wynonna Judd. Her brief career produced the #1 jukebox hit of all time, “Crazy” (written by Willie Nelson) and her unique, crying style and vocal impeccability have established her reputation as the quintessential torch singer.

Crazy


The 240th Day of the Year Is the Birthday

… of German author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, born in Frankfurt on this date in 1749. Goethe said, “One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and if it were possible, to speak a few reasonable words.”

… of Mother Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton, the first American-born Saint, born in New York City on this date in 1774.

… of Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy, born near Tula on this date in 1828.

… of ornithologist Roger Tory Peterson, born in Jamestown, New York, on this date in 1908.

… of Nancy Kulp, Miss Hathaway of The Beverly Hillbillies, was born on August 28th in 1921. She died in 1991.

Eilleen Regina Edwards was born 49 years ago today. We know her better as Shania Twain.


August 17th

Maureen O’Hara is 94 today. Once voted one of the five most beautiful women in the world, Miss O’Hara is probably best known now as Natalie Wood’s unbelieving mother in the classic Miracle on 34th Street (filmed when O’Hara was 26); or perhaps as Esmeralda to Charles Laughton’s Quasimodo in the Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Nobel Prize-winning author V.S. Naipaul is 82.

Robert De Niro is 71 today. De Niro has been nominated for the Best Actor in a Leading Role Oscar five times, winning for Raging Bull in 1981. He also won the Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role as the young Vito Corleone in Godfather II. De Niro’s other nominations were for Taxi Driver, The Deer Hunter, Awakenings and Cape Fear, and in 2013 for supporting in Silver Linings Playbook.

Novelist Jonathan Franzen is 55 today. His The Corrections won the 2001 National Book Award.

Sean Penn is 54 today. Penn has been nominated for the Best Actor in a Leading Role Oscar five times, winning for Mystic River and Milk. Penn’s other nominations were for Dead Man Walking, Sweet and Lowdown and I Am Sam.

Football coach/commentator Jon Gruden is 51.

Davy Crockett — frontiersman, soldier, three-term congressman, restless soul — was born on this date in 1786. As congressman 1827-1831 and 1833-1835, Crockett opposed many of President Andrew Jackson policies, particularly the Indian Removal Act. Crockett published A Narrative of the Life of David Crockett. Written by Himself in 1834. When he lost reelection that year he went to Texas, where he died at the Alamo on March 6, 1836.

After seeing Mae’s jewelry the coat check girl exclaims, “Goodness, what lovely diamonds!” Mae replies, “Goodness had nothing to do with it.” That’s screen legend Mae West in Night After Night. Ms. West was born on this date in 1893.

Francis Gary Powers was born on August 17, 1929. The CIA pilot was shot down over Soviet airspace on May 1, 1960, flying in a U-2 high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft. It was a major international incident. He was convicted of espionage but released in 1962 in a prisoner exchange. Upon arriving home he was criticized for not activating the plane’s self-destruct mechanism (he said it didn’t work) and not killing himself. He was largely exonerated and was ultimately highly decorated much of it long after his death. Powers died in 1977 when his Los Angles news helicopter crashed.


Little Sure Shot

Annie Oakley 1902

… was born 154 years ago today (1860).

As the star attraction of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, she thrilled audiences around the world with her daring shooting feats. Her act helped fuel turn-of-the-century nostalgia for the vanished, mythical world of the American West. Over time she became an American legend — the loud, brassy, cocksure shooter celebrated in the musical “Annie Get Your Gun.” But that legend had little to do with the real Annie Oakley. Although famous as a Western sharpshooter, Oakley lived her entire life east of the Mississippi. A champion in a man’s sport, she forever changed ideas about the abilities of women, yet she opposed female suffrage. Her fame and fortune came from her skill with guns, yet she was a Quaker.

American Experience | Annie Oakley | PBS

Larry McMurtry’s excellent essay “Inventing the West” from the August 2000 issue of The New York Review of Books tells us about this famous performer.

Annie Oakley (Phoebe Ann Moses—or Mosey) grew up poor in rural Ohio, shot game to feed her family, shot game to sell, was pressed into a shooting contest with a touring sharpshooter named Frank Butler, beat him, married him, stayed with him for fifty years, and died three weeks before he did in 1926.

When Annie Oakley and Frank Butler offered themselves to Cody the Colonel was dubious. His fortunes were at a low ebb, and shooting acts abounded. But he gave Annie Oakley a chance. She walked out in Louisville before 17,000 people and was hired immediately. Nate Salsbury, Cody’s tight-fisted manager, who did not spend lavishly and who rarely highlighted performers, happened to watch Annie rehearse and promptly ordered seven thousand dollars’ worth of posters and billboard art.

Annie Oakley more than justified the expense. Sitting Bull, normally a taciturn fellow, saw her shoot in Minnesota and could not contain himself. Watanya cicilia, he called her, his Little Sure Shot. Small, reserved, Quakerish, she seemed to live on the lemonade Buffalo Bill dispensed free to all hands. In London she demolished protocol by shaking hands with Princess Alexandra. She shook hands with Alexandra’s husband, the Prince of Wales, too, though, like his mother the Queen, she strongly disapproved of his behavior with the ladies. In France the Parisians were glacially indifferent to buffalo, Indians, cowboys, and Cody—Annie Oakley melted them so thoroughly that she had to go through her act five times before she could escape. In Germany she likened Bismarck to a mastiff.

In 1901 she was almost killed in a train wreck. Annie claimed that it was the wreck that caused her long auburn hair to turn white overnight; skeptics said her hair turned white because she left it in hot water too long while at a spa. She continued to shoot into the 1920s. In her last years she looked rather like Nancy Astor. Will Rogers visited her not long before her death and pronounced her the perfect woman. Probably not until Billie Jean King and the rise of women’s tennis had a female outdoor performer held the attention of so many people. She became part of the “invention” that is the West by winning her way with a gun: a man’s thing, the very thing, in fact, that had won the West itself.

Annie was her nickname as a child. Oakley was a stage name. Offstage she referred to herself as Mrs. Frank Butler.

Photo taken 1902 when Oakley was 42. Click image for larger version.


Ben Hogan

… was born 102 years ago today. Hogan was the great golfer of mid-century, overcoming injuries from a severe, near-fatal auto accident. Hogan won four U.S. Opens, two Masters, two PGAs and one British Open between 1946-53.

At some point NewMexiKen read a story about Hogan playing in a pro-am. The duffer with him kept asking how he, Hogan, did this and how he did that, as if the amateur could match Hogan’s skills if only he used the right club. Finally, after a wonderful chip shot, the amateur asked Hogan which club he had used. That was too much. Hogan proceeded to pull out every club in his bag and make perfect chip shots onto the green with each.

James Dodson’s is a good biography of Hogan.