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.


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.

Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz

… is 88 today. He took control of Cuba in 1959.

Castro wrote a letter to President Franklin Roosevelt in 1940. (He says he was 12, but should have been 13 or 14.) “If you like, give me a ten dollars bill green american in the letter [back] because never have I not seen a ten dollars bill green american and I would like to have one of them.” Castro went on to say, “I don’t know very English but I know very much Spanish and I suppose you [FDR] don’t know very Spanish but you know very English because you are American but I am not American.”

Perhaps if FDR had given him the $10 history might have been different.

I saw Castro give a speech outside the Hotel Nacional in Havana in 1993.

August the Twelfth Twenty Fourteen

Cantinflas, the great Mexican comedian, acrobat and musician — and bullfighter — was born 103 years ago today. His actual name was Fortino Mario Alfonso Moreno Reyes. Cantinflas appeared in more than 50 films, most famously as Passepartout in Michael Todd’s 1956 Around the World in Eighty Days. In English-speaking countries, David Niven was billed as the star. Elsewhere Cantinflas took top billing — he was the highest paid actor in the world at the time. He saved the movie from the stiff Niven if you ask me.

William Goldman is 83 today. He won Oscars for best original screenplay for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and best adapted screenplay for All the President’s Men. Other screenplays he has written include The Princess Bride, adapted from his own novel, Heat, Harper, Maverick and Marathon Man.

Parnelli Jones is 81 today. Jones won the Indianapolis 500 in 1963.

George Hamilton is 75 today.

Mark Knopfler is 65. Money for nothin’ and your chicks for free.

Pete Sampras is 43.

Katharine Lee Bates was born on this date in 1859. A poet, she is best remembered for the words to “America the Beautiful,” first published in 1895 and refined until 1913. She had been to the top of Pikes Peak in 1893.

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

If you know anything about mythology you probably first learned about it from Edith Hamilton, born on this date in 1867. Hamilton’s book Mythology, written after she had retired as a school head mistress, was published in 1942.

Christy Mathewson was born on this date in 1880. Mathewson was one of the original five inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1936 — with Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner and Walter Johnson. Mathewson had died in 1925.

As charismatic and popular as any player in the early 1900s, the college-educated Christy Mathewson won 373 games over 17 seasons, primarily for the New York Giants. Using his famous fadeaway pitch, Matty won at least 22 games for 12 straight years beginning in 1903, winning 30 games or more four times. A participant in four World Series, Mathewson’s lone title came in 1905 when he tossed three shutouts in six days against the Athletics. He set the modern National League mark with 37 wins in 1908.

Baseball Hall of Fame

The movie producer Cecil B. DeMille was born on August 12th in 1881. Known for his extravaganzas (e.g., The Ten Commandments), DeMille won his only Oscar for The Greatest Show on Earth (still fun to watch if you ever went to the circus under the Big Top).

Three-time Emmy winner Jane Wyatt, Margaret Anderson of Father Knows Best and Spock’s mother on Star Trek, was born 104 years ago today. Her Emmys were in 1958, 1959 and 1960. She died in 2006.

The actor, director John Derek was born on August 12, 1926 (he died in 1998). Derek’s wives included Ursula Andress, Linda Evans and Bo Derek.

Alvis Edgar Owens Jr. was born on August 12, 1929. As Buck Owens with his band the Buckaroos he had 21 number one country music hits. Owens also co-hosted the television comedy-variety show Hee Haw 1969-1986.

And it’s the birthday of Zerna Sharp, born in Hillisburg, Indiana, on this date in 1889. According to The Writer’s Almanac a few years back, Ms. Sharp is the woman who —

invented the characters Dick and Jane to help teach children how to read…Sharp’s idea was to use pictures and repetition to teach children new words. She took her idea to Dr. William S. Gray, who had been studying the way children learn to read, and he hired her to create a series of textbooks. She didn’t write the books, but she created the characters Dick, Jane, their sister Sally, their dog Spot, and their cat Puff. Each story introduced five new words, one on each page.

The IBM PC (Personal Computer) was released 33 years ago today.

Cleopatra VII Philopator committed suicide on this date in 30 B.C. She was Ptolemaic Queen of Egypt for 21 years (ruling with her two brother-husbands and her son). In addition to her two brothers, her spouses were Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. She wasn’t yet 39 when she died.