Saturday, May 31, 2014

JUNE 1 = Marilyn Monroe is Born

NOTE = With this, as with ALL T.I.H. postings just "click on" any highlighted words to be taken to a link or a video clip.

"She's quite wonderful. No training, no craft to speak of... no guile... just pure instinct. She's astonishing. But she won't believe me. That's probably what makes her great. It's almost certainly what makes her so profoundly unhappy. I tried my best to change her, but she remains brilliant despite me."

- Sir Lawrence Olivier on Marilyn Monroe *

Sir Lawrence was trying above to put his finger on the strange and eternally undefinable allure of Marilyn Monroe who was born on today's date in 1926 in Los Angeles, California. Born Norma Jean Mortenson, she was given her mother's name and was baptized Norma Jean Baker. To say that she was the ultimate sex symbol of the 1950's and 60's is only to speak the obvious. This woman held the fascination of so many of those who beheld her that her allure surely was more than that of a mere sex symbol. There was surely something more about her... perhaps it was her sadness. That longing for acceptance which perhaps came from her unhappy and unsettled childhood which could therefore never be assuaged. Maybe the fact that this woman, who seemed so very desirable, that she could never find her heart's desire, or even figure out what her heart's desire was, maybe this is what has made her so fascinating to the generations of film lovers who have watched her work, as well as those who worked with her. What was it that has made her such an icon?

Norma Jean Survives Childhood

The future star certainly had her share of troubles starting out in life, troubles which she had no part in creating, but troubles with which she would spend her life contending. Both her maternal grandparents and her mother were committed to mental hospitals, and young Norma Jean wound up spending her youth with a series of foster families. She married a neighborhood guy - James Dougherty at the very young age of 16. Norma was one of those original "Rosie the Riveters".... part of that generation of american women who went to work in the factories while their men were off fighting in the war. Her husband was a Merchant Marine who was sent to the South Pacific during World War II. And it was there in the munitions factory that a photographer - David Conover discovered the photogenic young woman (right, circa 1945) and moved her on to a successful career in modeling. Divorcing Dougherty in 1946, she was signed to a film contract with 20'th Century Fox in 1946. But her name of Norma Jean was deemed as unsuitable for a potential star. So like so many Hollywood stars she hit upon a new name. She decided to follow her idol Jean Harlow in taking her mother's maiden name of Monroe, and thinking that Marilyn had a nice flow with she thus became Marilyn Monroe.

Marilyn Monroe Becomes a Star

After a string of small roles that passed largely without notice, she garnered some attention with a bit part in "All About Eve" (1950), in which she played a ditsy young blonde under the wing of a powerful theater critic. But her most important role to date would come in "Niagara" (1953) in which she played an unfaithful young wife who connived with her lover to murder her husband. The reviews centered in on Monroe's overt sexuality in the film while disparaging her acting. Nevertheless, with this, her career was on the fast track, and she found herself on Hollywood's "A" list with such films as "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" (1953) in which she sung (she had a fine, very sultry singing voice) a famous rendition of "Diamonds Are a Girls' Best Friend.", and "the Seven Year Itch" (1955) in which she played the object of a man's desire to step out on his wife. Sadly this success in her professional career came at a heavy price in her personal life.

Marilyn's Life As a "Sex-Symbol"

An international sex symbol, she became involved with the great New York Yankees player Joe DiMaggio, whom she married in January of 1954. On a honeymoon trip with DiMaggio to the far east, Monroe performed for U.S. Troops in Korea, causing a near-riot among the super enamored troops for their dream-girl. This sort of sex-symbol worship of Marilyn was something with which the more staid and privately natured DiMaggio was never able to get comfortable. They would divorce the following October, although they would remain friends for the rest of her life. But Marilyn was notoriously insecure about herself, her public image, and also about her ability as an actress. She had by her prime years as an actress become a regular user of various drugs to help herself sleep, to wake up, to gain energy, to calm down... these not surprisingly took a significant toll on both her personal and professional life. Her next marriage to playwrite
Arthur Miller lasted four tumultuous years from 1956 to 1960. Miller, as would many men, tried to get to the bottom of Marilyn's insecurities, but found himself stymied. "She was a whirling light to me then, all paradox and enticing mystery, street-tough one moment, then lifted by a lyrical and poetic sensitivity that few retain past early adolescence." Miller recalled.

Monroe's Life Spins Out of Control
Marilyn's work continued to expand while her on-set habits of showing up late for work, sometimes not showing up at all made her a well-known headache for her directors, as well as her colleagues. She also insisted on having her acting coach, Paula Strasberg with her at all times, which made matters even more difficult. While Marilyn was certain that Strasberg's presence would make her a better actress, many of her colleagues, like the above quoted Olivier thought that Strasberg's only function was to "butter Monroe up". Still, it was during this later period of her career that Marilyn delivered two of her best performances in "The Prince And the Showgirl" (1957) with Lawrence Olivier, and "Some Like it Hot"(above,1959), with Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis. That last one, under the direction of the great Billy Wilder, was later named by the American Film Institute as the funniest American comedy ever made. But her personal life continued to run out of control with various affairs both rumored and real. She was said to have been involved with President John F. Kennedy for a time. It was her very sultry rendition of "Happy Birthday" to Kennedy in May of 1962 which was her last public appearance. Monroe was found dead at her home in Brentwood, California on August 5, 1962. She was 36 years old. At the autopsy which followed, eight milligrams per cent of chloral hydrate and 4.5 milligrams percent of Nembutal were found in her system, and Dr.Thomas Noguchi of the Los Angeles County Coroners office recorded cause of death as "acute barbiturate poisoning", resulting from a "probable suicide" There are many who doubt this verdict by the coroner. Rumors about some shadowy figures perhaps even hired by the Kennedys to silence Marilyn abound to the present day. There may be some truth to such theories, but it is not my purpose here to debate them. Let it suffice here to say that the doubts exist.

Marilyn Monroe and "Star Quality"

"I have great faith that her career would have continued," commented Ben Lyon, who signed Marilyn to her first studio conract. "She was one of the greatest draws in the history of motion pictures, and today I think she would have been tops. Marilyn had a childlike quality which made men adore her. Yet women weren't jealous. Like John Wayne and a few other giants, she had a star quality that had nothing to do with acting... What women in pictures can compare with her today? Nobody."

So what was it that made Monroe such an icon? That "star quality" which Ben Lyon spoke of above was surely present in Marilyn Monroe. Yes, she was a beautiful and alluring woman. And men have been known to make fools of themselves over such women in the past dating back to Julius Caeser and Cleopatra. Even substantial men such as Olivier have been known to see things where there was nothing when searching to recover their youth. But what Olivier said elsewhere and others did as well is that she took the worst that Hollywood could dish out, and succeeded anyway. This could not possibly have happened without substantial talent, determination and pure guts on Marilyn's part. And also, she must indeed have had tons of that elusive and mysterious ingredient called "star quality"....

READERS!! If you would like to comment on this, or any "Today in History" posting, I would love to hear from you!! You can either sign up to be a member of this blog and post a comment in the space provided below, or you can simply e-mail me directly at: I seem to be getting hits on this site all over the world, so please do write and let me know how you like what I'm writing (or not!)!!


2011, the Weinstien Company Directed by Simon Curtis

* = The quote from Sir Lawrence Olivier with which this posting begins was taken verbatim from the 2011 film "My Week With Marilyn" (listed above). I have been unable to locate the exact quotation, or quotations from which it was taken in the book version of that film. Also, I have been unable to locate a copy of Colin Clark's book "The Prince, the Showgirl and Me" on which the film was based. But I feel safe in assuming that Olvier did in fact utter the sentiment with which I quoted him from the film. If and when I am able to locate the exact quote or quotes, I will indeed list them here as a source.

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MAY 30 = Joan of Arc is Killed

"On the day when Joan was burned, the wood was prepared for the fire to burn her before the sermon was finished or the sentence had been pronounced. And no sooner had the sentence been read by the bishop, without any delay, she was taken to the fire, and I did not see that there was any sentence pronounced by the lay judge. She was at once taken to the fire and once in the fire she cried more than six times "Jesus," and above all with her last breath she cried in a loud voice "Jesus!" so that all present could hear her. Almost all wept with pity, and I heard that after her burning, that the ashes were gathered up and cast into the Seine."

- Maugier Leparmentier, Apparitor of the Archiepiscopal Court of Rouen

On today's date, May 30 in the year 1431 the young girl known to the world as "Joan of Arc" was executed by the English by being burnt at the stake. She had been convicted of Heresy in an English Court, having proclaimed at one time to have heard voices of holy spirits telling her to restore Charles VII to his rightful place as the King of France. At the time of her death, she was 19 years old.

Joan of Arc - the Most Basic Facts:

France was locked in combat with England for the possession of most of what is modern day France. It was called "the Hundred Years War" although it actually lasted for 116 years from 1337 till 1453. Charles VII was considered by the French to be their rightful King, but had never been formally crowned as such. Joan was born in @ 1412, and claimed that at the age of 12 she had visions of Saints telling her to drive the English out of France, and to bring Charles VII to the city of Reims to
be crowned as King of a united and independent France. Exactly how she managed to convince those in authority to put her effectively in charge of their armies ahead of trained soldiers is a long story about which I know very little and understand even less. But they did in fact put her in just such a position and it worked! And that is why her story is important. She was an apparently illiterate peasant girl who had a Holy vision and inspired by that vision went on to lead the French nation to victory in a loooong and terrible war (above: miniature of Joan of Arc from late 1400's) which they had been losing. Using her battle plans the French retook the key city of Orleans in 1429. But in 1430 she was captured by the Brits at Rouen and condemned to death on a charge of Heresy for falsely claiming divine inspiration. Sentenced to burn at the stake, the following was testified by eyewitnesses to her execution on this date 1431 at her Trial of Rehabilitation in 1455:

"When she was handed over by the Church, I remained with her, and she asked most fervently to be given a cross. An Englishman who was present heard this and made her a little one out of wood from the end of a stick and handed it to her. She received it and kissed it most devotedly, uttering pious lamentations and acknowledging God our Savior, who suffered for our redemption on the Cross, of which she had there the symbol and representation. Then she put that cross on her breast between her body and her clothes and humbly asked me to let her have the crucifix from the church so that she could gaze on it continuously until her death. I saw to it that the clerk of the parish church of Saint Sauveur brought it to her.... And so while she was still uttering devoted praise and lamentations to God and the saints, she was led and tied to the stake. And her last word, as she died, was a loud cry of 'Jesus'."

- Jean Massieu, Court Bailiff

"After the sentence, she got down from the platform from which she had heard the sermon and was led by the executioner, without further sentence from the lay judge, to the place where the wood was prepared for her burning. The wood was piled on a scaffold, beneath which the executioner lit his fire. When Joan saw the fire, she told me to get down and to raise our Lord's Cross very high so that she could see it, and this I did. Right up until the end of her life she maintained that the Voices she heard were of God, and that all that she had done she had done at God's command, and that she did not believe that she had been deceived by her Voices, and that the revelations she received were from God. And that is all I know."

- Martin Ladvenu, Priest of the Order of Saint Dominic

Due in no small part to the inspiration of Joan of Arc (known also as "the Maid of Orleans"), Charles VII was crowned King of France in the Cathedral at Reims on July 17, 1429. By 1453, the Brits had been driven out of France except for the port of Calais, and they wound up leaving that in 1458. Joan of Arc was declared to be a "Martyr" by the Pope in 1909, and canonized a Saint in 1920. She remains one of the Patron Saints of France down to the present day.


MAY 29 = Hillary & Norgay Top Mt. Everest

Mount Everest (Nepali: सगरमाथा, Sagarmāthā, Wylie: jo mo glang ma; Chomolungma or Qomolangma/ ˈmˌlɑːŋmə/[ "Holy Mother"; Zhūmùlǎngmǎ Fēng;) is the Earth's highest mountain, with a peak at 8,848 metres (29,029 ft) above sea level and the 5th tallest mountain measured from the centre of the Earth. It is located in the Mahalangur section of the Himalayas. The international border between China and Nepal runs across the precise summit point. Its massif includes neighboring peaks Lhotse, 8,516 m (27,940 ft); Nuptse, 7,855 m (25,771 ft) and Changtse, 7,580 m (24,870 ft).

This is how Wikipedia, the on-line Encyclopedia begins it's entry on Mount Everest. Wikipedia also includes the Chinese and Tibetan names for this great mountain, but they come in linguistic characters which I don't know how to reproduce here. But I started off with some 
of the dimensions of this bad girl just to convey the immensity of the challenge which was overcome on today's date, May 29 in 1953 by New Zealand's Edmund Hillary and Nepal's Tenzing Norgay when they became the first men to reach the top of the world's highest peak.

Everest Gets Her Name, But Resists Climbers

Everest, which was originally known as "Peak XV" first had her height published in "the Great Trigonometric Survey of British India" in 1856. Her height was established at that time as being 29.002 feet high. She acquired her official name for the rest of the world in 1865 from the Royal Geographical Society after a recommendation of Andrew Waugh, the British Surveyor General of
India. Waugh's name for the 
mountain was "Everest" after his predecessor as Surveyor General, Sir George Everest. The peak had been called "Chomolungma" by the Tibetans for some centuries but because Nepal and Tibet were closed to foreigners at this time, Waugh didn't know this native appellation. So the name Mt. Everest has stuck. There had been many attempts to climb Mt. Everest before Hillary/Norgay made it in 1953. There are several possible routes to the summit, and the most difficult problems faced by climbers have more to do with altitude sickness, weather and wind factors than with technical problems of climbing.

There are a number of routes by which Everest can be reached, although there are two which are most favored: the north ridge from Tibet (From which direction the photo above is taken), and the southeast ridge from Nepal. This southeastern route is technically easier and coming as it does from Nepal it is less politically sensitive than the northern route through Tibet which was invaded and subjugated by Communist China in the 1950's, and the northern route closed. There were several attempts made before 1953. One in 1921 by George Mallory and Guy Bullock took the northern route, but failed just short of 23,000 feet because they had no oxygen. One by George Finch reached 27,300 in 1922 before giving up. Mallory and Andrew Irvine made another try in June of 1924 from which they never returned. Mallory's frozen remains were found in 1999, but it remains unknown whether or not he and Irvine reached the summit before being killed in an avalanche. Hugh Ruttledge made two unsuccessful tries in 1932 and '33. And a Swiss attempt was able to reach 28, 199 ft. before being defeated in 1952.

Hillary and Norgay Reach the TOP!!

Present on that 1952 Swiss attempt was Tenzing Norgay, a Nepali sherpa climber, and a native of India. His experience would prove very useful for another attempt organized for 1953 by John Hunt.
This try involved two pairs of climbers on separate attempts. The first pair made nearly made it -- closing to less than 330 ft. of the top on May 26, before difficulties with their oxygen supply forced them to throw in the towel. But their left-over oxygen proved very useful to the second pair, Edmund Hillary of New Zealand and the sherpa Norgay (below). Climbing the southeastern ridge and leaving on May 28, the two finally made it to the top on May 29, 1953 as described later by Sir Edmund:

"We didn't waste any time. I started cutting steps again, seeking now rather anxiously for signs of the summit. We seemed to go on forever, tired now and moving rather slowly. In the distance I could see the barren plateau of Tibet. I looked up to the right and there was a rounded snowy dome. It must be the summit! We drew closer together as Tenzing brought in the slack on the rope. I continued cutting a line of steps upwards. Next I had moved onto a flattish exposed area of snow with nothing but space in every direction. Tenzing quickly joined me and we looked around in wonder. To our immense satisfaction we realised we had reached the top of the world!

It was 11:30 a.m. on the 29'th May, 1953. In typical Anglo-Saxon fashion I stretched out my arm for a handshake, but this was not enough for Tenzing who threw his arms around my shoulders for a mighty hug and I hugged him back in return. With a feeling of mild surprise, I realised that Tenzing was perhaps more excited at our success than I was."


"A View From the Summit" by Sir Edmund Hillary, Corgi Books, 2000.

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MAY 28 = "The Golden Gate Bridge" Opens

“When U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt pressed a telegraph key in Washington on May 28, 1937 to signal the bridge’s official opening to the world, it set off a cacophony of church bells, fog horns, car horns, and shouts that inaugurated a week of celebrations. Thirty eight ships of the U.S. Pacific Fleet steamed under the new crossing. Flood lights illuminated the bridge at night turning its paint a rich gold, and it quickly became known as the “Span of Gold.”… Eighteen hundred cars and 2100 pedestrians crossed in the first hour of its operation and by midnight of opening day, an estimated 25,000 cars and 19,350 had paid their tolls (fifty cents per car, five cents per pedestrian).”

Such was the scene of merriment and celebration when the mighty and beautiful “Golden Gate Bridge” opened to vehicular traffic on today’s date, May 28 in 1937, as recorded by Donald Mac Donald.

Joseph Strauss - Bridge Dreamer

The idea of a bridge crossing the Golden Gate had been discussed before, but the proposal that eventually was accepted was made in a 1916 San Francisco Bulletin article by James Wilkins, a one-time engineering student. But the estimated cost of $100 million was viewed as impractical (which at that time it was). So the idea was put to prospective bridge engineers for a less pricey version. One man who made a proposal was Joseph Strauss (below, 2'nd from right) was an ambitious but dreamy engineer and poet who had, for his graduate thesis, designed a 55-mile (89 km) long railroad bridge across the Bering Strait. At the time, Strauss had completed some 400 drawbridges—most of which were inland—and nothing on the scale of the new project. His plan was adopted.

Strauss, Ellis & Moisieff - the Builders

Strauss really took to the idea, campaig -ning vigor- ously for over a decade to get funds for the bridge approved. He squared off repeatedly during this time with various groups – the “Old Guard” interests of environmentalists, ferry operators, city administrators, and even the engineering community. But in November of 1930, with the Great Depression already having gone on for a year, voters nevertheless approved a bond issue for Strauss' bridge. The ambitious project finally had its go signal from the people of San Francisco. Strauss was a brilliant engineer, nevertheless he alienated many people in his drive to build this structure -- his first suspension bridge. Obsessed with claiming credit as the man responsible for the bridge’s creation, he downplayed the vital work done by Charles Ellis and Leon Moissieff (above, far right), the two bright and visionary men who actually worked out the significant engineering challenges of building the bridge. Strauss' detractors kept a statue of the chief engineer proposed for the bridge plaza from being produced. But his widow would eventually fund its creation in 1941, giving it the inscription: "Joseph B. Strauss, 1870-1938, 'The Man Who Built the Bridge (pictured, below).'"

Construction Begins in 1933

Construction began on January 5, 1933. The project cost more than $35 million. Strauss remained head of the project, looking after daily construction details and making some groundbreaking contributions. A graduate of the University of Cincinnati, he had put a brick from his (and MY) alma mater's demolished McMicken Hall in the south anchorage before the concrete was poured. He pioneered the employment of movable safety netting right below the construction site, which saved the lives of many steelworkers, who would otherwise have plummeted to their deaths. Out of eleven men killed from falls during construction, ten were killed as the job neared it’s finish, when the net failed under the stress of a scaffold that had fallen. Nineteen others were saved by the net during the bridge’s construction.

The project was finished by April 1937. "The Golden Gate Bridge" cost the community nearly $35 million during its five-year construction, but this was about 1.3 million under budget. Its name comes from the body of water over which it spans, Golden Strait. The "gold" comes from the strait's location at the mouth of the North Bay, beyond which lies the gold of California. Anyone who has seen it -- as I have -- can readily attest that it is a truly wondrous sight. As part of both U.S. Route 101 and California State Route 1, it connects the city of San Francisco on the northern tip of the San Francisco Peninsula to Marin County. The weight of the roadway is hung from two cables that pass through the two main towers and are fixed in concrete at each end. Each cable is made of 27,572 strands of wire. There are 80,000 miles (129,000 km) of wire in the main cables. The bridge has approximately 1,200,000 total rivets.

And it DID happen on May 28'th!!

And just to be SURE that I've got the right date here: Ceremonial festivals began on the 27'th of May in 1937 and went on for a whole week! But the actual pressing of the telegraph key by F.D.R. opening the span to VEHICULAR traffic did in fact occur on today's date, May 28'th. The website states that the pedestrians got first crossing privileges on the 27'th, but the opening of the bridge to vehicular traffic -- which is afterall the bridge's main purpose -- occurred on the 28'th.

READERS!! If you would like to comment on this, or any "Today in History" posting, I would love to hear from you!!  You can either sign up to be a member of this blog and post a comment in the space provided below, or you can simply e-mail me directly at:  I seem to be getting hits on this site all over the world, so please do write and let me know how you like what I'm writing (or not!)!!


by Donald MacDonald, Chronicle Books, San Francisco, CA., 2008

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MAY 27 = "The Bismarck" is Sunk

“Nevertheless, there shall be one more, one absolutely last, chance. Four hours later the torpedo aircraft take off again, and this time they find the right enemy, dive down into the German anti-aircraft fire, drop their torpedoes --- and hit. One of the torpedoes crashes against the side armor of the colossus. The ship shudders a little – that’s all. But a second hits it not more than a yard from the rudder, utterly smashing everything that enables the ship to be steered, Rudderless, the “Bismarck” can no longer maneuver, can only turn around in a circle. Here, almost at the edge of the radius of action of it’s own air arm, it has received this mortal blow.”

This was how the mortal blow was struck to the mighty German Battleship “Bismarck”, as described by author C.D. Becker, a former German naval officer in his 1955 book “Defeat at Sea”. The British naval forces moved in to finish off the “Bismarck” on today’s date, May 27, in 1941.

Admiral Raeder's "Plan Z"

The German “High Seas Fleet” had engaged in very little action during World War One. A great many powerful battleships and cruisers had been built, but once the war commenced, the Kaiser and his admirals, afraid to expose their capital ships to risk, did very little with them. Hence, other than the immense, but largely inconclusive Battle of Jutland in 1915, the High Seas Fleet sat at anchor throughout “the Great War” as it was then called. This time, they planned on doing something with a surface fleet. Germany’s Admiral Raeder (below) had produced “Plan Z” whereby Germany would have a nucleus of eight
battleships, various cruisers, destroyers, a large number of submarines, and even four aircraft carriers to challenge the British surface fleet more directly. Unfortunately for the Germans, Raeder’s plan was based on a war starting in 1944. Thus when Hitler got antsy and started up in 1939, the projected fleet was mostly in the planning stage. Only two full sized battleships were anywhere near ready; the “Bismarck” and the “Tirpitz”. With only these and a few of the other ships ready, the plan was for them to sneak out, raid British commerce, and be gone before the Brits even knew they had struck. In this time before “radar” was known to be effective, such a plan just might work.

"Bismarck" and "Prinz Eugen" Escape, the "Hood" Blows Up

It didn’t work, but the “Bismarck” came close to making it work. She was a formidable ship indeed. Displacing 41,700 tons, she was heavily armored on both her decks and her sides, but she could make a speedy 29 knots. And her main armament were eight 15 inch cannons, with four placed fore and aft. This made “Bismarck” the largest and most powerful enemy ship which the Brits had to face. They tried to keep her under careful surveillance, but accompanied by the cruiser "Prinz Eugen", she managed to slip the British blockade sailing from Bergen, in Nazi-occupied Norway on May 21, with the intention of moving north of Iceland and breaking out into the Atlantic through the Denmark Strait between Greenland and Iceland. The Brits however were soon appraised of her movements and sent the newly completed battleship HMS "Prince of Wales" (so new, that some of the workmen were still on board making the final touches), and the heavy cruiser HMS "Hood" along with six destroyers to intercept her.
"Hood" was also a very powerful ship, but she was a cruiser – meaning that she had been built with less armor than a full battleship, in order to gain speed. This proved to be a tragic flaw, for in an engagement on May 24, one very well-aimed shell from the “Bismarck” managed to penetrate “Hood’s” deck armor, reaching her aft ammunitions store, and causing her literally to blow up. This great warship broke into two pieces, and sunk in less than three minutes (above). Out of a crew of over 1800 men, there were only three survivors. The “Prince of Wales" had also been sufficiently damaged that she was forced to withdraw.

The Brits Catch Up With the "Bismarck"

But the “Bismarck” herself had sustained some significant damage. Wounded, and trailing a large oil slick, she detached from “Prinz Eugen” and moved at a reduced speed for the safety of German air cover and repairs on the coast of Nazi-occupied France, at the port of St. Nazairre. “Bismarck’s” luck was about to run out. Just as she was reaching the safety of that aircover, she was spotted by a Britsh flying boat, and her position reported. A squadron of torpedo planes from the aircraft carrier “Ark Royal": was dispatched to attack “Bismarck” and possibly slow her down enough for the rest of the available surface vessels to show up and attack her once again. These planes were really old fashioned and outdated – “Swordfish” biplanes. But in proof that
airpower was to vanquish the old battle- wagons, one of the torpedoes struck the “Bis- marck’s”  rudder. As mentioned in the excerpt from Bekker’s book, without her steering mechanism, the “Bismarck” was helpless. She could only steam in circles and wait for the enemy to assemble. And on this date in 1942, a squadron of British vessels including the battleships HMS “King George V”, and HMS “Rodney” came together and put an end to the “Bismark”. But Britain’s joy over the death of the “Bismarck” would not last too long. Further proof that airpower was destined to overcome the mighty big-gun ships which had ruled the seas for so long was to come on December 10 of that very year when HMS “Prince of Wales” with whom the "Bismarck" had just slugged it out, along with HMS “Repulse” was sunk in the Gulf of Siam by Japanese land-based bombers.

READERS!! If you would like to comment on this, or any "Today in History" posting, I would love to hear from you!!  You can either sign up to be a member of this blog and post a comment in the space provided below, or you can simply e-mail me directly at:  I seem to be getting hits on this site all over the world, so please do write and let me know how you like what I'm writing (or not!)!!


Defeat at Sea - The Struggle and Eventual Destruction of the German Navy in WW11. by C.D. Bekker, henry Holt & Co., U.S., 1955


 by C.S. Forester, Curtis Publ. Co., 1959

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MAY 26 = Russia's Last Czar is Crowned

“I believe we should regard all these difficult ceremonies in Moscow as a great ordeal sent by God, for at every step we shall have to repeat all we went through in the happy day thirteen years ago! One thought alone consoles me: That in the course of our life we shall not have to go through the rite again, that subsequent events will occur peacefully and smoothly.”

It was with these words that Nicholas Romanov wrote to his mother, the 49 year old Dowager Empress Marie, attempting to console her on the day of his coronation as Czar of all the Russias -the LAST Czar of all the Russias - which took place on today’s date, May 26 in the year 1896. That “happy day thirteen years ago” to which the new Tsar, Nicholas II referred was the coronation of his late father as Tsar Alexander III. Nicholas was of course trying to soothe the feelings of his mother on a day which must certainly have filled her with reminders that her own husband had died of nephritis at the too young age of 49.

The Long and Difficult Coronation Ceremony for the Czar

The coronation of the Emperor of Russia (pictured below) which is what he was, although Nicholas preferred the old Russian title of “Tsar”, was an extremely long ceremony, governed by years of hide-bound tradition, which had to be observed to the letter. Here, author Robert K. Massie gives a mere taste of the beast:

“The coronation ceremony lasted five hours. After a lengthy Mass came the formal robbing of the Tsar and Tsaritsa. Then Alexandra knelt while the Metropolitan (THE High Priest of the Russian Orthodox Church) prayed for the Tsar. While everyone else remained standing, Nicholas alone dropped on his knees to pray for Russia and her people. After being anointed with Holy Oil, Nicholas swore his oath to rule the empire and preserve autocracy as Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias. Then for the first and only time in his life, the Tsar entered the sanctuary to receive the sacrament as a priest of the church. As Nicholas walked up the altar steps, the heavy chain of the Order of St. Andrew slipped from his shoulders and fell to the floor. It happened so quickly that no one noticed except those standing closest to the Tsar. Later lest it be taken as omen, all these were sworn to secrecy.”

The Tragedy of the Doomed Reign of Nicholas II

Thus, on this ill omen began the final chapter in the long history of the Russian Tsars, and one of the very saddest human stories which I have ever studied. That oath to preserve autocracy (which is defined literally as “government by one person having unlimited authority”) was something which Nicholas took very seriously indeed. And he might as well have been swearing to slit his own throat, the throats of millions of his subjects, and not least of all, the throats of his entire family. Russia was simply too large to be governed in such a way any longer. The people contained within the Russian Empire were simply too diverse, and their lives too complex for one man to have such absolute authority over them all. Worse yet, the world was in the midst of an industrial revolution which was not going to leave Russia alone, no matter how much the Tsar might have wished it to. Like it or not, Russia was going to be yanked into the 20’th Century. And despite all of the forces that worked against it, despite the war with Japan in 1905, and the subsequent Revolution which forced Nicholas to allow the convening of an elected Parliament – the Duma – it took the prolonged and relentless crisis of World War One, and the activities of a figure who belonged in a nightmare – Rasputin – to bring down the centuries old autocracy which Nicholas had sworn to uphold, which was the only way of life in his rapidly changing world which he understood. The story of Nicholas and his wife, the Tsaritsa Alexandra, of their son, the Tsarevitch Alexis and his suffering from hemophilia, and of the fear for the boy’s life that lead Nicholas and his wife to the evil man Rasputin, are all subjects which will be dealt with in other “Today in History” postings.

Above, Nicholas II and family. Standing l to r Maria, Tsaritsa Alexandra. Seated, l to r, Olga, Nicholas II, Anastasia, Alexis, Tatiana.

Nicholas II - the Wrong Man at the Wrong Time

On this date, let it suffice to say that Nicholas himself was an exceptionally good and decent man. He possessed many personal qualities which made him the superior of a great many of those who were around him. He was decent, honest and kind. He was a fine father to his children – four lovely young girls and a cheerful, if sick little boy. And very rarely among crowned heads of this, or any period, he was a very sweet and devoted husband to his wife with whom he was passionately in love. And that is what makes this story so extraordinarily sad. It was only when all was lost – when his throne had been swept away, and he and his family had been clapped into captivity at the mercy of the Bolsheviks – the grim and murderous band who would ultimately produce the Soviet Union, and all of the misery and oppression for which it stood, it was only then that all of the human qualities which had always existed in Nicholas came through to the surface. By then, it was too late for Nicholas, for his family, for his country and for the world.

“Essentially the tragedy of Nicholas II was that he appeared in the wrong place in history. Equipped by education to rule in the nineteenth century, equipped by temperament to rule in England, he lived and reigned in Russia in the twentieth century. There, the world he understood was breaking up around him. Events were moving too swiftly, ideas were changing too radically. In the gigantic storm which swept over Russia, he and all he loved were carried away. To the end, he did his best, and for his wife and family that was a very great deal. For Russia, it was not enough.”

- Robert K. Massie, from his book “Nicholas and Alexandra”

“It is difficult and painful to contemplate Nicholas in the bleak light of hindsight; one is always haunted by that image of the deposed autocrat seated on a tree stump … (left) gazing blindly into the camera and far beyond. One’s memories are dragged again and again to that dreadful cellar in Ekaterinberg, in the Urals where Nicholas himself, the Tsaritsa, the four nice girls and their brave and cheerful little hemophilic brother were murdered by the Bolsheviks with a brutality which seemed to be a barbaric aberration, but which turned out to be prophetic. The courage to die well, however, was not enough to make Nicholas a good ruler.”

- Edward Crankshaw, from his book “In the Shadow of the Winter Palace”

READERS!! If you would like to comment on this, or any "Today in History" posting, I would love to hear from you!! You can either sign up to be a member of this blog and post a comment in the space provided below, or you can simply e-mail me directly at: I seem to be getting hits on this site all over the world, so please do write and let me know how you like what I'm writing (or not!)!!


"Nicholas and Alexandra" by Robert K. Massie, Mac Clelland and Stewart Ltd., 1967

"In the Shadow of the Winter Palace" by Edward Crankshaw, Penguin Books, Middlesex, England, 1976.

"Nicholas and Alexandra" Columbia Pictures, Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner, 1971.

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Monday, May 26, 2014


By the spring of 1864 Union dead had completely filled the cemeteries of both Washington and Alexandria. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton directed the Quartermaster General, Montgomery Meigs (below, left) to find a new site for more burials. Meigs, who had a reputation as a hard driving, and scrupulously honest officer, had been born in Augusta, Georgia. Indeed he had served under Robert E. Lee in the peace time Union Army. But by this point in 1864, Meigs had come
to hate all of his former fellow officers who had taken up arms against the Union to which he had remained loyal, including to no small degree Robert E. Lee himself. And it was with this anger in his heart that Gen. Meigs chose the grounds of Lee’s old mansion home in Arlington, Virginia (below, right) for the new site that Sec. Stanton had ordered him to find. In fact, Meigs ordered the Union dead to be buried within a few feet of General Lee’s front door. Lee was responsible for their deaths, so Lee’s land would serve as their final resting place, and the graves would be close enough to the mansion that nobody would ever be able to live there again. This order would take on a very personal significance for Gen. Meigs, as in October of 1864, his son, Lieutenant John Rodgers Meigs was killed while serving with the Union Army at Swift Run Gap in Virginia. He wound up being buried in what had once been Mrs. Lee’s flower garden. This went on throughout the rest of the war, with the men who had fallen before Lee’s lines, being buried in his very own front yard, which became Arlington National Cemetery.

"Memorial Day" is Established

During the Civil War, some 600,000 men were killed – nearly every city, town and hamlet in the country suffered the loss of some significant portion of it’s male population. As the conflict drew to a close, mourners started decorating the graves of the fallen soldiers with flowers and small flags. It was in Waterloo, New York that this practice was first made an official day of remembrance when May 5 was designated as a day for all of the town’s shops and businesses to close so the townspeople could decorate the graves of the war dead in 1866. There were nevertheless a great many different days that were set aside for this recognition, and General John Logan, head of the Union Army Veterans Association lead an effort to combine these days into one day. May 30th was the best day and Gen. Logan chose that date for two very important reasons: First, the day did not mark the anniversary of a Civil War battle, and second "flowers would likely be in bloom all over the United States." And it was in that very cemetery at Arlington which Gen. Meigs had set aside that the first National Memorial Day ceremony was held on May 30 in 1868, when 5,000 Civil War widows, orphans and family members placed flowers on the graves of the 20,000 Civil War veterans who were therein interred… both Union and Confederate. Eventually, the name of the day was changed to Memorial Day, although older Americans (such as my Grandmother) continued to call it “Decoration Day”. In 1971, Congress designated the fourth Monday in May as a national Memorial Day holiday.

READERS!! If you would like to comment on this, or any "Today in History" posting, I would love to hear from you!!  You can either sign up to be a member of this blog and post a comment in the space provided below, or you can simply e-mail me directly at:  I seem to be getting hits on this site all over the world, so please do write and let me know how you like what I'm writing (or not!)!!


"The Civil War" - Produced by Ken Burns, PBS, 1990, Episode 7, "Most Hallowed Ground".

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Sunday, May 25, 2014

MAY 25 = "Star Wars" Premieres

“I'll tell you, the very first time I ever experienced the phenomenon, the day ("Star Wars") opened in 1977, a car came to pick me up and take me to see the 35-millimeter version. ... I said to the driver, 'Can you go by Grauman's Chinese Theater, because I want to see what the marquee looks like.' I could not believe my eyes - there were lines around the block. I thought it would be a hit, but I thought it would be by word of mouth. I didn't expect it on the first day.”

This was the surprised reaction of Actor Mark Hamill to the phenomenal success of “Star Wars” which premiered on today’s date, May 25 in 1977. Can you BELIEVE that much time has passed?!

"Star Wars" Pioneers Advance Marketing and Word-of-Mouth Publicity

The huge success of "Star Wars", which won seven Oscars, and grossed over $461 million in U.S. ticket sales and nearly $800 million worldwide--began with an extensive, coordinated marketing push by Producer and creator George Lucas (pictured below with Joda - a character from the next Star Wars movie) and his studio, 20th Century Fox, months before the movie's release date. The anticipation of a
revolutionary movie-watching experience spread like wildfire, causing long lines in front of movie theaters across the country and around the world. I can remember standing across the street from Western Hills High School one afternoon in that May of ’77. My friends Jon Jay Muth, Glenn Pepple and I were waiting for Glenn’s mother to come and give us a ride home, and Jay was reading the newspaper account of this upcoming movie to us. “ ’A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.’ Wow! This sounds like it’s going to be great! I’m not going to miss it!” Jay said, sounding quite fascinated. I was interested too, although I didn’t go and see it as soon as Jay did. But word-of-mouth and the media buzz was quite effective. I recall reading about it in the paper in an article where the writer was remarking that everyone was talking about it, and how she was feeling like she had to know “Star Wars – speak” in order to matter anymore.

A Full Symphonic Score and Dazzling Special Effects Make a Smash Hit

Well as soon as I got a chance – my friend Stacey Woolley’s brother Scot was going to see it – for the second time – and asked Stacey and I if we wanted to go – I certainly jumped at it. And both Stacey and I were completely blown away. The magnificent full symphonic score by John Williams was a major selling point for a pair of young musician/film score geeks like us. But I was amazed at the outstanding special effects which grabbed onto the viewer from the film’s very opening moment with the space ship coming in from the top of the screen for a wide-screen shot at the underside of the huge craft. By the middle of the film, we had come to expect such moments. I remember when the “Millenium Falcon” – the seemingly rusty bucket-of-bolts type craft which the character of Han Solo had put together was about to go into hyper-space drive, our friend Glenn whispered “I think we’re about to hit special effects pay-dirt!” And we did, not only that time, but throughout the movie.

An Untried Cast Adds to the Innovation

I can also remember being amazed that the film had worked so very well even though there were only two well-known actors in it. While the voice of the evil "Lord Darth Vader" was the clearly recognizable intonation of James Earl Jones, the only two other established faces (at least to Stacey and I) were those of Sir Alec Guiness, as "Ben Kenobi", and Peter Cushing as the Death Star Commander “Grand Moff Tarkin” – the one to whom Carrie Fischer’s feisty character of “Princess Leia” says “I knew I detected your foul stench somewhere!!” All three of the main characters were played by newcomers. Mark Hamill (below, left) as mentioned above was clearly new as “Luke Skywalker.” Carrie  Fischer came from a well-known   
show business family of mother of Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fischer, but was herself still an unknown, And most difficult of all for today’s fans of the series to grasp is the fact that the rakish and irreverent character of "Han Solo" was played by Harrison Ford (below, right) who at that time, was totally unknown. Now some 30 years later, Ford is still amazed at the effect of “Star Wars”:

"I don't know that I understood it very well. I'm not sure I understand it yet, but I think the invention of it is obvious. Albeit 30 years old, the originality of it was very striking for the time. I think the mythology of it is what makes it work as much as anything else, and I think George tapped into some psychic vein which made the whole thing work. That plus John Williams' incredible music, it's the glue of the piece, I think. What I noticed tonight as much as anything else is the contribution that sound made. The THX system that George innovated was remarkable at that time and really went a long way to creating that kind of energy that the film has."

"Star Wars" Forever Raises the Bar

And Mr. Ford is quite right. Since “Star Wars”, the bar for Science Fiction/ Adventure has forever been set higher. The kind of special effects that George Lucas employed, and which have won Academy Awards for their crystal clarity, and the sense of massive size that they convey have become expected. No more can a film or even a Television show get by on the sort of shoe-string budget special effects that once characterized such programs as “Lost in Space” or even the original “Star Trek.” And characters as well as story-lines which lack the depth and the multi-layered prospective of "Solo""Skywalker", and "Princess Leia", are just not passable anymore. George Lucas and “Star Wars” became a true cultural phenomenon, and deserves to be remembered not just as a great adventure film series, but an important part of the milieu of the 70’s and the 80’s.

READERS!! If you would like to comment on this, or any "Today in History" posting, I would love to hear from you!!  You can either sign up to be a member of this blog and post a comment in the space provided below, or you can simply e-mail me directly at:  I seem to be getting hits on this site all over the world, so please do write and let me know how you like what I'm writing (or not!)!!


"Star Wars: A New Hope"  - Directed by George Lucas, 1977

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Saturday, May 24, 2014

MAY 24 = The Reds Play Baseball's First Nightgame

“Night baseball went over with a bang in Cincinnati last night when the first major league game ever played under the floodlights was won by the Reds over the Phillies by the count of 2 – 1 after a beautifully played contest.

With more than 20,000 fans in attendance, the two teams put on a combat which was one of the highlights of the early season. Unaffected by the artificial illumination which covered the field in a manner perfectly satisfactory to the athletes, both teams played errorless baseball, each executing some really brilliant plays.”

This was the news that greeted the fans of professional baseball’s oldest franchise, the Cincinnati Reds in their morning paper, the Cincinnati Enquirer on May 25. This was to report to them the events of the night before, today’s date, May 24 in 1935 when the first night game in professional baseball’s history was played at Crosley Field, home of the Cincinnati Reds against the Philadelphia Phillies. The Reds won the game 2 – 1.

The Minor Leagues Point the Way to Games Under the Stars...

Baseball’s first night game ever had actually taken place over five years before, on May 2, 1930. This was when two minor league teams squared off with the Wichita team being hosted by Des Moines Iowa for a Western League match-up. The idea had indeed been a true commercial success with a crowd of 12,000 fans in attendance during a period when Des Moines had been drawing barely 600 fans per-game. It was the time of the Great Depression in America, and minor league clubs were regularly falling by the wayside. The always resourceful and innovative owners of these clubs found in night games a way to bring in scarce fan dollars, as the idea caught on.

But the major league clubs were feeling the pinch as well. The major league owners were a more conservative bunch than their minor-league counterparts. But the owner of MY TEAM – the Cincinnati Reds, Powell Crosley (above, right) was a born innovator, and it didn’t take him long to catch on to this idea. This first big league night game drew over 20,000 fans, who stood by as President Roosevelt symbolically switched on the lights from Washington, D.C. To make good on their new evening fan base, the Reds played at least one night game that year against every National League team; a total of eight such games. And despite having a less than stellar record of 68-85, paid attendance went 117 percent during those games.

A Fascinating Slice of Life in the 1930's:

The account of this first evening game in baseball history, as written by James T. Golden Jr. for the readers of the Cincinnati Enquirer is an engaging look not only at the event itself, but of a vanished time in our history. So I will let the paper do the talking:

“Fandom Gay At First Night Game; High Ball Is Like A Pearl On Velvet

By James T. Golden Jr.

The bands played, Pres. Roosevelt turned on the lights, everybody said “Oh!” in a highly pleased way, Chlozza busted a fast one out towards Cassiopeia’s Chair – and 20,422 fans got fandom’s first introduction to night baseball in the big leagues.

Whether Cassiopeia was leaning down from her constellation to watch the Redlegs and the Phillies wasn’t known, nor was it known whether she could have seen through the light clouds that commenced to drift across from over left field at about the end of the second inning, seeming to stay at about the height of the encircling lights and never dropping below them.

All that the fans cared about was that the visibility was plenty good from the stands and the bleachers, that the field showed up in a more uniform light, green and tan than it does in daytime. It was as brilliant with the trim little white figures running about it, as a new baseball game board in the window of the corner drugstore.

What clouds there were were so thin that the ball, when it flew high, shone through them like a bald head in a steam room. And when there was no mist, the sphere stood out against the sky like a pearl against dark velvet.

The great batteries of lights never seemed to bother either the spectators or the boys on the field. Big and bright as they were, one could look directly into them without winking an eye.

For once the fans in the bleachers were as cool as the spectators in the stands -- maybe a little cooler because the spring month of 1935 annals of the year as “Nippy May” wasn’t much warmer last night than she had been. There were enough overcoats and blankets in evidence to supply a football crowd, but the crispness of the air just reminded everybody that Crosley Field is going to be a swell place to go for amusement on hot summer nights.

The beautiful sex was well repre- sented (Pres- ident Roos- evelt might have been gratified to note the prepon- derance of soprano “Oh’s” that greeted his successful long distance light-turning-oning). But the stands were packed with thousands of the strong , silent sex (which is really sort of weak and very vociferous at a baseball game) – from callow youths accustomed to burning the midnight oil to elderly gentlemen who used to sit in the boiling sun and root for Ty Cobb, and then go home and go to bed with the chickens, but who now elect to stay up with the bats and yell for Billy Myers. 

Charles Rieckel, whose hundredth birthday is coming with October, who hasn’t missed an opener for 35 years since he was a mere youth of 65, and wo can’t remember missing an outstanding game since the 80’s made a special trip up to Cincinnati from his home in Cynthiana, Ky. To see something new under the sun or rather under the moon.

Most of the old timers at the game agreed last night that big-league baseball under Mr. Crosley’s $50,000 worth of illuminating equipment is quite a bit different from playing checkers under a coal oil lamp, and that it certainly has its points – especially when the Red stockings turn in a winner as they did last night."

Photos - Above left, Reds pitcher Paul Derringer. Above right, Reds' catcher, Gilly Campbell #19 and the Reds' first baseman, Billy Sullivan #4.

READERS!! If you would like to comment on this, or any "Today in History" posting, I would love to hear from you!!  You can either sign up to be a member of this blog and post a comment in the space provided below, or you can simply e-mail me directly at:  I seem to be getting hits on this site all over the world, so please do write and let me know how you like what I'm writing (or not!)!!


"The Cincinnati Enquirer", May 25, 1935

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