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.


August Oneth

William Clark, the Clark of Lewis and Clark, was born on this date in 1770. He died in 1838. Here is Clark’s journal entry on his 36th birthday [1806] from Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition Online. He was on the Yellowstone River in what is now eastern Montana.

We Set out early as usial the wind was high and ahead which caused the water to be a little rough and delayed us very much aded to this we had Showers of rain repeetedly all day at the intermition of only a fiew minits between them. My Situation a very disagreeable one. in an open Canoe wet and without a possibility of keeping my Self dry. the Country through which we passed is in every respect like that through which I passed yesterday. The brooks have all Some water in them from the rains which has fallen. this water is excessively muddy. Several of those brooks have Some trees on their borders as far as I can See up them. I observe Some low pine an cedar on the Sides of the rugid hills on the Stard. Side, and Some ash timber in the high bottoms. the river has more Sand bars today than usial, and more Soft mud. the current less rapid. at 2 P. M. I was obliged to land to let the Buffalow Cross over. not withstanding an island of half a mile in width over which this gangue of Buffalow had to pass and the Chanel of the river on each Side nearly ¼ of a mile in width, this gangue of Buffalow was entirely across and as thick as they could Swim. the Chanel on the Side of the island the went into the river was crouded with those animals for ½ an hour. [NB: I was obliged to lay to for an hour] the other Side of the island for more than 3/4 of an hour. I took 4 of the men and killed 4 fat Cows for their fat and what portion of their flesh the Small Canoes Could Carry that which we had killed a few days ago being nearly Spoiled from the wet weather. encamped on an Island Close to the Lard Shore. two gangues of Buffalow Crossed a little below us, as noumerous as the first.

Francis Scott Key was born on August 1st in 1779.

Richard Henry Dana, author of the classic memoir Two Years Before the Mast, was born on August 1st in 1815. His trip to California was 1834-1836. Subsequently he graduated from Harvard Law School, practiced law and was a prominent abolitionist. Two Years Before the Mast (before the mast meaning among the crew, not as an officer) was published in 1840.

Herman Melville was born on August 1st in 1819. The Writer’s Almanac had a brief bio that included this:

The Melvilles then settled into a farm near Pittsfield, Massachusetts. It was here, in 1850, that Melville would meet Nathaniel Hawthorne, whom Melville would come to think of as a dear friend and confidant. The following year, after an intoxicating period of exploring the ideas of transcendentalism and allegorical writing, Melville penned his enduring masterpiece, Moby Dick, the lyrical, epic story of Ahab and the infamous white whale, dedicating it to Hawthorne in “admiration for his genius.” Moby Dick was met with mixed reviews. The London News declared Melville’s power of language “unparalleled,” while the novel was criticized elsewhere for its unconventional storytelling, and Melville’s fans were disappointed not to find the same kind of adventure story they had loved in Typee and Omoo. It was the beginning of the end of Melville’s career as a novelist and, following a series of literary failures, he turned to farming and writing articles to support his family.

The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor [excerpt]

Mary Harris Jones was born on this date in 1830 (or, more likely, 1837, or possibly May 1, 1837). She is better known to us as Mother Jones. The magazine named after her has a brief biographical essay that includes this:

The moniker “Mother” Jones was no mere rhetorical device. At the core of her beliefs was the idea that justice for working people depended on strong families, and strong families required decent working conditions. In 1903, after she was already nationally known from bitter mine wars in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, she organized her famous “march of the mill children” from Philadelphia to President Theodore Roosevelt’s summer home on Long Island. Every day, she and a few dozen children — boys and girls, some 12 and 14 years old, some crippled by the machinery of the textile mills — walked to a new town, and at night they staged rallies with music, skits, and speeches, drawing thousands of citizens. Federal laws against child labor would not come for decades, but for two months that summer, Mother Jones, with her street theater and speeches, made the issue front-page news.

The rock of Mother Jones’ faith was her conviction that working Americans acting together must free themselves from poverty and powerlessness. She believed in the need for citizens of a democracy to participate in public affairs.

NewMexiKen has known about Mother Jones since the eponymous magazine first came out in 1976. What amazes me is that I had no knowledge of her before that, despite majoring in American history, and even though “For a quarter of a century, she roamed America, the Johnny Appleseed of activists.”

Robert Todd Lincoln, the first child of Abraham Lincoln and the only one to survive to adulthood, was born on this date in 1843. He died in 1926. (Lincoln’s son Eddie was born in 1846 and died in 1850. Son Willie died at age 12 in 1862. Son Tad (Thomas) died at age 18 in 1871.)

Jerry Garcia was born on this date in 1942. He died in 1995.

Elliot Charles Adnopoz was born 83 years ago today. He is known as Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, prominent among the folk singers of the late 1950s and early 1960s, and very influential on Bob Dylan.


July 30th

Edd “Kookie Kookie lend me your comb” Byrnes is 81 today.

Buddy Guy is 78.

Buddy Guy is one of the titans of the blues, straddling traditional and modern forms, as well as musical generations. He’s worked with Muddy Waters, Little Walter and Howlin’ Wolf, on one hand, and Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan and the Rolling Stones, on the other. There are few notable blues figures that Guy hasn’t brushed up against. He was even an influence on Jimi Hendrix.

Buddy Guy Biography | The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum

Oscar nominee (direction and co-writer, The Last Picture Show) Peter Bogdanovich is 75.

Paul Anka is 73. Anka is not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, is 67.

Oscar best actor nominee Laurence Fishburne is 53.

Coach of the American men’s national soccer team, Jürgen Klinsmann is 50.

Lisa Kudrow is 51.

Two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank is 40.

Joe Nuxhall, the youngest player ever to appear in the major leagues, was born on this date in 1928. Nuxhall pitched 2/3rds of an inning for the Cincinnati Reds on June 10, 1944. He was 15 years, 316 days old. He gave up 5 runs, with 5 walks, 2 hits and a wild pitch. It was 1952 before he again appeared, but he pitched for 15 more seasons. Nuxhall was a longtime Reds broadcaster. He died in 2007.

The Hall of Fame manager Casey Stengel was born on this date in 1890.

Casey Stengel’s distinguished 54-year professional career spanned the era from Christy Mathewson to Mickey Mantle. He batted .284 over 14 seasons in the majors and accounted for both Giant victories in the 1923 World Series by hitting home runs. It was as a colorful and successful manager, though, that he earned Hall of Fame recognition. His feat of guiding the Yankees to 10 pennants and seven world titles in a 12-year span ranks as one of the most remarkable managerial accomplishments of all time.

Baseball Hall of Fame

A few Casey-isms:

“Can’t anybody here play this game?”

“Good pitching will always stop good hitting and vice-versa.”

“He’d (Yogi Berra) fall in a sewer and come up with a gold watch.”

One of the most remarkable Americans, Henry Ford, was born on this date in 1863. The following is an excerpt from Mr. Ford’s New York Times obituary in 1947:

Renting a one-story brick shed in Detroit, Mr. Ford spent the year 1902 experimenting with two- cylinder and four-cylinder motors. By that time the public had become interested in the speed possibilities of the automobile, which was no longer regarded as a freak. To capitalize on this interest, he built two racing cars, the “999” and the “Arrow,” each with a four-cylinder engine developing eighty horsepower. The “999,” with the celebrated Barney Oldfield at its wheel, won every race in which it was entered.

The resulting publicity helped Mr. Ford to organize the Ford Motor Company, which was capitalized at $100,000, although actually only $28,000 in stock was subscribed. From the beginning Mr. Ford held majority control of this company. In 1919 he and his son, Edsel, became its sole owners, when they bought out the minority stockholders for $70,000,000.

In 1903 the Ford Motor Company sold 1,708 two-cylinder, eight horsepower automobiles. …

With this material he began the new era of mass production. He concentrated on a single type of chassis, the celebrated Model T, and specified that “any customer can have a car painted any color he wants, so long as it is black.” On Oct. 1, 1908, he began the production of Model T, which sold for $850. The next year he sold 10,600 cars of this model. Cheap and reliable, the car had a tremendous success. In seven years he built and sold 1,000,000 Fords; by 1925 he was producing them at the rate of almost 2,000,000 a year.

He established two cardinal economic policies during this tremendous expansion: the continued cutting of the cost of the product as improved methods of production made it possible, and the payment of higher wages to his employes. By 1926 the cost of the Model T had been cut to $310, although it was vastly superior to the 1908 model. In January, 1914, he established a minimum pay rate of $5 a day for an eight-hour day, thereby creating a national sensation. Up to that time the average wage throughout his works had been $2.40 a nine-hour day.

The entire obituary is really rather fascinating reading.

Douglas Brinkley’s Wheels for the World (2003) is considered a good biography of Ford and the Ford Motor Company.

Vladimir Zworykin was born in Murom, Russia, on this date in 1889. He came to the U.S. in 1919. Zworykin’s television transmitting and receiving method using cathode ray tubes, developed in the 1920s and early 1930s, ranks him as the prime inventor of television.