July 3, 1954: Whoops, There Goes the First Prop

In 1954, a gaggle of Hollywood VIPs boarded a DC-4 airliner headed from Hawaii to California. Their troubled flight made a bit of film history — in Cinemascope, no less. The High and the Mighty premiered on July 3, 1954, with a roster of stars that included Claire Trevor, Robert Stack, Laraine Day, Phil Harris, and shepherding them through the sky, John Wayne.

Introducing the scenario that would be used so successfully by the Airport movies of the 1970s as well as countless other disaster movies, the film details the lives and interactions of the passengers and crew when calamity strikes the flight. Calamity comes in the form of a ‘whoops there goes the first prop’ moment and another, followed by a nasty engine fire. Co-pilot Wayne leaps to the fore and (spoiler alert) guides the plane to its destination. And what happened to the pilot, you ask. The pilot, played by Robert Stack goes all squishy and useless (probably because Wayne produced the film and Stack didn’t).

Stack, incidently, showed up in a 1980 film that brought the air disaster genre to its illogical conclusion. In Airplane he stays on terra firma trying to talk an experienced pilot through a landing: “Striker, listen, and you listen close: flying a plane is no different than riding a bicycle, just a lot harder to put baseball cards in the spokes”.

Composer Dimitri Tiomkin won an Academy Award for his original score of The High and the Mighty.  The title song was nominated for an award but did not win.

Miami Wit

Dave Barry, born July 3, 1947, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and humorist who wrote a nationally syndicated column for The Miami Herald from 1983 to 2005. He has also written numerous books of humor.

• The word user is the word used by the computer professional when they mean idiot.


• If you were to open up a baby’s head – and I am not for a moment suggesting that you should – you would find nothing but an enormous drool gland.

• Although golf was originally restricted to wealthy, overweight Protestants, today it’s open to anybody who owns hideous clothing.

• Scientists now believe that the primary biological function of breasts is to make males stupid.

• Gravity is a contributing factor in nearly 73 percent of all accidents involving falling objects.

• Dogs feel very strongly that they should always go with you in the car, in case the need should arise for them to bark violently at nothing right in your ear.

• The simple truth is that balding African-American men look cool when they shave their heads, whereas balding white men look like giant thumbs.

• Thus the metric system did not really catch on in the States, unless you count the increasing popularity of the nine-millimeter bullet.