October 5, 1983: Burping in Polite Company

Noted American businessman and inventor, Earl Silas Tupper died on October 5, 1983. He was buried in a 100-gallon Tupperware container whose lid was “burped”to get an airtight seal before being lowered into the ground. Thousands paid their respect at a memorial Tupperware Party held earlier.

For indeed this was the man who invented and gave his name to Tupperware, a line of plastic containers in an almost infinite array of shapes and sizes that changed the way Americans stored their food. Tupper invented the plasticware back in the late 30s, but it didn’t really start worming its way into every household until the 50s when Tupper introduced his ingenious and infamous marketing strategy, the Tupperware Party. This clever gambit gave women the opportunity to earn an income without leaving their homes and to simultaneously annoy their friends and relatives.

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Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

The rock musical Hair has played pretty much continuously since its Broadway debut at the Biltmore Theatre in the late 60s, its mix of sex, drugs and rock and roll more or less guaranteeing hairan avid following. It’s been translated into many languages and produced throughout the world. But back on October 5, 1967, it looked a lot like a colossal failure.

After rejections by producer after producer, the musical was accepted by Joseph Papp, who ran the New York Shakespeare Festival, to open the new Public Theater in New York City’s East Village for a six-week engagement.

Hair depicts a group of hippies living the bohemian life in New York City, rebelling against the Vietnam War, conservative parents and other societal ills while diving into the sexual revolution and the drug culture. Its protagonist Claude must decide whether to resist the draft or give in to conservative pressures and risk his principles (and his life) by serving in Vietnam.

Production did not go well. Perhaps the theater staff was too close to conservative America; the material seemed incomprehensible, rehearsals were chaotic, casting confusing. The director quit during the final week of rehearsals and the choreographer took charge. The final dress rehearsal was a disaster.

But the show did go on. Critics were not particularly kind, but it found an audience. During the six-week engagement, a man from Chicago was attracted to the show by its poster with a picture of five American Indians on it. He thought Hair was all about Native Americans, a favorite subject of his. He was surprised to discover it was actually about hippies, but he nevertheless liked it so much that, he bankrolled its move to a discotheque in midtown Manhattan. The show had to start at 7:30 pm instead of the normal curtain time of 8:30 and play without intermission so dancing could begin at 10 pm. But Hair was getting closer to Broadway.

In 1968, the play’s creators reworked it into the musical that everyone knows, adding additional songs, the infamous nude scene, and an upbeat ending — it was the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.

 

I found it all about as arousing as a Tupperware party.  — Stephen Fry

 

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October 3, 1874: Pathetic Earthlings, You Know Who You Are

Although the name Charles Middleton (born in Kentucky, October 3, 1874) doesn’t invite instant recognition, his face — or at least one of his faces — certainly does. He worked in vaudeville, on the legitimate stage, and in traveling circuses before striking out as a motion picture actor in 1920. His career took off when sound came to the movies, thanks to a deep, menacing voice that dripped villainy.

To many generations he will always be the villain he played for the first time in 1936, one of film’s most notable nasties — Ming the Merciless. The evil enemy of the entire universe first appeared in the serial Flash Gordon, battling wits with Buster Crabbe’s Flash. He reprised his role in Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars (1938) and Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe (1940).

Middleton appeared in 200 movies. He died in 1949.

Pathetic earthlings. Hurling your bodies out into the void, without the slightest inkling of who or what is out here. If you had known anything about the true nature of the universe, anything at all, you would’ve hidden from it in terror.

 

Scared Shepless

Standing on a chair to reach the microphone, the ten-year-old kid was as nervous as a chicken surrounded by dumplings.  After all, it was his first time in front of an audience, and the folks at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show looked like one pretty tough audience (nobody had told him to imagine them naked).

It was all his fifth-grade teacher’s fault; she was the one who had pushed him into this appearance after hearing him sing Red Foley’s “Old Shep” one morning during prayers. The kid was praying now, Shepdogpraying he wouldn’t pee the pants of his spiffy little cowboy outfit. He did make it all the way through “Old Shep” that October 3 in 1945. And he came in fifth place in the competition, winning five dollars and a free pass to all the fair rides.

A few months later, for his eleventh birthday, his parents gave him a guitar. He had wanted a rifle (you’ll shoot your eye out, kid).

But he did apply himself to learning the guitar with the help of his uncle Vester and the pastor at the family’s church. Then when he was twelve, his mentor arranged an on-air performance for him. This one didn’t go so well; this time he was “scared Shepless.” and unable to sing.  Fortunately, he was able to overcome his fear and sing the following week. And he went on to have a decent career singing.  As an adult, he returned to “Old Shep” and pretty much conquered it.  It went something like this:

October 2, 1872: A Foggy Day in London Town

At exactly 8:45 pm on October 2, 1872, a rich British gentleman started out on a lengthy journey accompanied by his French valet, the purpose of the trip being to win a wager he had made with members of his club. To win, he would have to complete his journey before 8:45 pm on December 21.  The gentleman’s name was of course Phileas Fogg and his amazing journey is recounted in Jules Verne’s most popular novel Around the World in 80 Days.

Jules Verne was a French author known for several extraordinary journeys including 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Journey to the Center of the Earth, and Five Weeks in a Balloon. He is the second most-translated author in the world (following Agatha Christie).

Fogg begins his journey by train from London to Brindisi in southern Italy on the coast of the Adriatic Sea. Here he boards the steamer Mongolia and crosses the Mediterranean Sea to Suez, Egypt. Fogg has correctly calculated this leg of the journey at 7 days. Today the same journey would take just about as long.

The Almanac will check in on Fogg again after his arrival in Suez.

 

Open Says Me

It’s the time of year when gardening cooks are busily canning the fruits of their summer-long labors. The idea of canning foods for preservation is certainly not new; the Dutch were preserving fresh salmon in tin cans back in the 1700s. While its not used by home canners, the tin can has been the main method of food preservation for a couple hundred years now.

By the early 1800s, tin cans were in wide use throughout Europe and the United can1States. Trouble was they weren’t that easy to get into. “Cut round the top near the outer edge with a chisel and hammer.” read the instructions on one such can.  Or smash with large boulder, perhaps.

It wasn’t until the 1850s that can openers began to appear, various tools that pierced the can and sawed it open. One interesting device that appeared in 1866 was a tin can with its own opening device attached. Patented by J. Osterhoudt on October 2, it was a can with a slotted key attached. By inserting a tab on the can into the slot and continuously turning the key, the can would peel open. This ingenious and frequently frustrating can and key combo is still in use today, primarily for sardine and Spam-like products.

 

How He Got in My Pajamas I’ll Never Know

Groucho (Julius Henry) Marx was born on October 2, 1890. During his seven-decade career, he was known as a master of quick wit and rapid-fire, impromptu patter, frequently filled with innuendo.  He made 26 movies, 13 of them with his brothers Chico and Harpo, and many with Margaret Dumont as a stuffy dowager and the butt of Groucho’s jokes. The films included such comedy classics as The Cocoanuts, Animal Crackers, Monkey Business, Horse Feathers, Duck Soup, A Day at the Races, and A Night at the Opera. He also had a successful solo career, most notably as the host of the radio and television game show You Bet Your Life.

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September 23, 1889: Deal Me In, Yamauchi-san

Nintendo, the consumer electronics giant was founded on September 23, 1889. No, it wasn’t the first video gaming company, a hundred years ahead of its time. Super Mario Brothers and Pokémon were not evennintendo1 glints in some developer’s eyes. The company was founded to produce playing cards. Playing cards had been introduced to Japan centuries earlier, but each time a card game became popular, folks began gambling on it, and the government banned it. One card game, hanafuda, resisted this trend. It used Western style cards with images but no numbers. The lack of numbers and the fact that the game was quite complicated limited its appeal to gambling types.

Nintendo founder Fusajiro Yamauchi produced and sold handcrafted hanafuda cards painted on mulberry tree bark — hardly high tech. The company hummed along happily producing its cards for another fifty years or so until an antsy grandson of the founder began to expand. His expansion efforts were rather haphazard and for the most part less than successful. There was a taxi company and a TV network, a food company selling instant rice. Then there was the chain of “love hotels,” offering accommodations for “resting” at hourly rates with such amenities as unseen staff members and hidden parking lots.

Nintendo stock soon bottomed out. In 1966, Nintendo got into the toy business with such products as Ultra Hand, Ultra Machine and Love Tester. During the 1970s, the company moved into electronics and arcade games. Then in 1981, it introduced Donkey Kong and the rest is — well, you know what they say.

Nintendo still makes hanafuda cards.

Madame Would-Be President

Born on September 23, 1838, Victoria Woodhull, although rather woodhullfamous or infamous in her day, does not jump readily to mind today. She wore many hats: newspaper publisher, stock broker, lobbyist, traveling clairvoyant, public speaker on women’s suffrage. She was also the first woman to run for president in the United States. That was in 1872 as the candidate of the Equal Rights Party. Noted abolitionist Frederick Douglass was selected as her running mate. However, he never acknowledged it, and campaigned for Republican Ulysses S. Grant.

She had a few things going against her. Women couldn’t vote, so she couldn’t even vote for herself. She was not old enough to serve as president. And just a few days before the election she was arrested on obscenity charges for publishing an account of an adulterous affair between the minister Henry Ward Beecher and Elizabeth Tilton.

She didn’t receive any electoral votes, and no one knew her popular vote total since her votes weren’t counted. One gentleman in Texas did publicly admit voting for her.

One of the world’s most popular entertainments is a deck of cards, which contains thirteen each of four suits, highlighted by kings, queens and jacks, who are possibly the queen’s younger, more attractive boyfriends.”
― Lemony Snicket

August 29, 1769: Wicked Witch of the Whist

In 1769 London, a gentleman died at the ripe old age of 97. Although little is known about the gentleman himself, his name has traveled down through the years and is more familiar to us today Bridge-Playersthan to those who might have rubbed elbows with the man back in the eighteenth century. His name was Edmond Hoyle, and although he was a barrister by trade, he is now known for law only as it applies to games of chance. And he is much more recognized by his nickname ‘According to.”

     Hoyle laid down the law for the game of Whist in a widely circulated treatise on the subject. He also had a great deal to say about backgammon, quadrille, piquet, and chess. He was, we might surmise, one of those wet blankets who must rain on card-game parades (to jumble metaphors, about which Hoyle had nothing to say) with their whining “but the rules say” or “according to Hoyle.”

     But Whist was his long suit. This venerable game provides ample material on which to pontificate, and pontificate Hoyle did. A forerunner of Bridge, Whist is all about taking tricks. Who takes them, and when and how and why gives the game a wide variety of flavors from which to choose. There’s Knockout Whist, a game in which a player who wins no trick is eliminated, sent to stand in a corner; Solo Whist, a game where individuals can bid to win 5, 9 or 13 tricks or to lose every trick; Kleurenwiezen, an elaborate Belgian version of the game, filled with Gallic mischief; Minnesota Whist, played to win tricks or to lose tricks (talk about flexibility); Romanian Whist, a game in which players try to predict the exact number of tricks they will take; German Whist for two very aggressive players who take tricks from Poland without prior warning; Bid Whist in which players bid to determine trump and one player is a dummy who sits out the hand; and Danish Whist, in which the dummy brings pastries to the other players.  But England lays claim to most of the true Whist players. It is easy to imagine a group of eighteenth century British aristocrats at their club. “Shall we have a go at a spot of Whist?” “Capital idea.” “Jolly.” “According to Hoyle . . .”

 

One of the world’s most popular entertainments is a deck of cards, which contains thirteen each of four suits, highlighted by kings, queens and jacks, who are possibly the queen’s younger, more attractive boyfriends. — Lemony Snicket

August 25, 1913: We Have Met the Enemy

Starting his career as an anonymous young storyboard artist for Walt Disney Productions on Donald Duck cartoons and other shorts, the cartoonist who would later be compared to everyone from Lewis Carroll and James Joyce to Aesop and Uncle Remus moved to the animation department in 1939. There, during the next five years he contributed to such Disney classics as Pinocchio (Gepetto in the whale), Fantasia (a drunk Bacchus riding a donkey), and Dumbo (the crow sequence).  Walt Kelly was doing pretty well at $100 a week.

During the 40s, Kelly devoted himself more and more to comic book art at Dell. The little possum with whom he is now most closely associated came on the scene in 1943 in Dell’s Animal Comics. Pogo would go on to star in 16 issues of his own comic book and 26 years as a syndicated newspaper comic strip.  Along with Pogo, there were  Albert the Alligator, Churchy LaFemme (a turtle), Howland Owl, Beauregard (Houndog), Porkypine, and Miz Mamzelle Hepzibah (a skunk).

Kelly’s liberal political and social views were rarely disguised as he used the strip to champion the powerless and the oppressed and to satirize political dogmas and figures such as Senator Joseph McCarthy (Simple J. Malarkey, a gun-toting bobcat), Vice President Spiro Agnew, and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. Many newspapers dropped Pogo, and others moved it to the editorial page. Walt and Pogo were probably most remembered for their campaign on behalf of the environment and the battle cry: “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

Walt Kelly died in 1973.

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August 15, 1935: Will Power

Cowboy, vaudeville performer, humorist, social commentator and motion picture actor, Will Rogers was one of the world’s best-known celebrities in the 1920s and 1930s and adored by the Will-Rogers-StampAmerican people. Known as “Oklahoma’s Favorite Son,” Rogers was born in 1879 to a prominent Cherokee Nation family in Indian Territory (now part of Oklahoma). During his amazing career, he traveled around the world three times, wrote more than 4,000 nationally-syndicated newspaper columns, and starred in 71 movies (a majority of them silent ) and several Broadway productions. He was the top-paid Hollywood movie star at the time, and in 1934, was voted the most popular male actor in Hollywood.

     As a radio broadcaster and political commentator, he was the leading political wit of the Progressive Era.  He called politics “the best show in the world” and described Congress as the “national joke factory.”

     Rogers died on August 15, 1935, with aviator Wiley Post, when their small airplane crashed in Alaska.

Never miss a good chance to shut up.

 

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There are three kinds of men. The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.

 

We can’t all be heroes because somebody has to sit on the curb and clap as they go by.

 

When I die, I want to die like my grandfather who died peacefully in his sleep. Not screaming like all the passengers in his car.

 

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Ten men in our country could buy the whole world and ten million can’t buy enough to eat.

 

The best way to make a fire with two sticks is to make sure one of them is a match.

July 26, 1921: Excelsior, You Fatheads

To many of those who have even heard of Jean Shepherd, he is the voice of the grown-up Ralphie Parker whose childhood struggle to score an Official Red Ryder 200-Shot Range Model Air Rifle for Christmas is the subject of the holiday classic A Christmas Story. The film is based on Shepherd’s stories about growing up in Indiana.

Born July 26, 1921, Shepherd was an American raconteur, radio and TV personality, writer and actor. After several radio gigs, he settled in at WOR radio New York City in 1956 with an overnight slot on which he delighted fans by telling stories, reading poetry, and organizing listener stunts. The most famous of his stunts was the creation of a book, I, Libertine, by an 18th century author. Shepherd suggested that his listeners visit bookstores and ask for a copy of it, which led to booksellers attempting to purchase the book from their distributors.  Fans of the show also planted references to the book and author so widely that demand for the book led to its being listed on The New York Times Best Seller list even though it hadn’t been written.

Shepherd’s radio stories found their way into magazines and were later collected in the books In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash; Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories and Other Disasters; The Ferrari in the Bedroom; and A Fistful of Fig Newtons.

 

shep“What the hell time is it?” muttered the old man. He was always an aggressive sleeper. Sleep was one of the things he did best, and he loved it. Some look upon sleep as an unfortunate necessary interruption of life; but there are others who hold that sleep is life, or at least one of the more fulfilling aspects of it, like eating or sex. Any time my old man’s sleep was interrupted, he became truly dangerous.”Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories: And Other Disasters

 

From A Christmas Story:

I had woven a tapestry of obscenity that as far as I know is still hanging in space over Lake Michigan.

Only I didn’t say “Fudge.” I said THE word, the big one, the queen-mother of dirty words, the “F-dash-dash-dash” word!

Now, I had heard that word at least ten times a day from my old man. He worked in profanity the way other artists might work in oils or clay. It was his true medium; a master.

And of course:  You’ll shoot your eye out, kid.

July 26, 1895: Say Goodnight

With husband George Burns, Gracie Allen (born on July 26, 1895) made comedy history – in vaudeville, the movies, on radio and television.

The Burns and Allen comedy act began with Allen as the straight man, feeding  lines to Burns who delivered the punchlines. George explained later that he noticed Gracie’s straight lines were getting more laughs than his punchlines, so he reversed their roles. Audiences immediately fell in love with Gracie’s character, a clever combination of ditziness and total innocence.

George attributed their success to Gracie, even though he was a brilliant straight man: “All I had to  graciedo was say, ‘Gracie, how’s your brother?’ and she talked for 38 years.  And sometimes I didn’t even have to remember to say ‘Gracie, how’s your brother?'”

I read a book twice as fast as anybody else. First, I read the beginning, and then I read the ending, and then I start in the middle and read toward whatever end I like best.

 

“Gracie, those are beautiful flowers. Where did they come from?”
“Don’t you remember, George? You said that if I went to visit Clara Bagley in the hospital I should be sure to take her flowers. So, when she wasn’t looking, I did.”

 

Presidents are made, not born. That’s a good thing to remember. It’s silly to think that Presidents are born, because very few people are 35 years old at birth, and those who are won’t admit it.

 

A word of warning: The F-dash-dash-dash word appears on page 3 of Terry and the Pirate.  You could cross it out if you wanted, if you owned your own copy.

 

June 11, 1933: Werewolf? There Wolf.

Actor, comedian, director, screenwriter, author and activist Gene Wilder was born on June 11, 1933.  After his first film role playing a hostage in Bonnie and Clyde, he went on to star in such memorable films as Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, The Producers, Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles.

 

wilderInvention, my dear friends, is 93% perspiration, 6% electricity, 4% evaporation, and 2% butterscotch ripple.” — Willy Wonka in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory

 

“The clue obviously lies in the word “cheddar.” Let’s see now. Seven letters. Rearranged, they come to, let me see: “Rachedd.” “Dechdar.” “Drechad.” “Chaderd” – hello, chaderd! Unless I’m very much mistaken, chaderd is the Egyptian word meaning “to eat fat.” Now we’re getting somewhere!” Sigerson Holmes in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes Smarter Brother

 

“You’ve got to remember that these are just simple farmers. They’re people of the land. The common clay of the New West. You know – morons.”The Waco Kid in Blazing Saddles

 

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“This is a nice boy. This is a good boy. This is a mother’s angel. And I want the world to know once and for all, and without any shame, that we love him. I’m going to teach you. I’m going to show you how to walk, how to speak, how to move, how to think. Together, you and I are going to make the greatest single contribution to science since the creation of fire.” – Dr. Frankenstein in Young Frankenstein

 

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I’m in pain and I’m wet and I’m still hysterical! – Leo Bloom in The Producers

June 6, 1971: The Shew Must Go On

Ed Sullivan was to the golden age of television what Google is to searching.  He ruled Sunday night TV for 23 years – from 1948 to his very last broadcast on this day in 1971. Sullivan presented acts from the era’s biggest stars to acrobats, dancing bears, puppets, contortionists, you name it.  Ten thousand in all – if they were entertainers, an appearance on the Sullivan show was their holy grail.

Musical performances from rock to opera were a staple of the program. Even its first broadcast, when it was known as Toast of the Town, made music history as Broadway composers Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II previewed the score of their upcoming musical, South Pacific. And after that, West Side Story, Cabaret, Man of La Mancha – if it was on Broadway, it was on Sullivan. One of those Broadway musicals, Bye Bye Birdie, was all about making it on the Sullivan show.

Sullivan also chronicled the history of rock and roll from Elvis Presley’s appearance in 1956 through the Supremes, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Doors, the Mamas and the Papas, and on June 6, 1971, the last program, Gladys Knight and the Pips.

When CBS canceled the show, the network let it end with a whimper.  But in the 33 years since cancellation, numerous tribute shows and DVDs have kept Sullivan in the public eye.

dday-620x488Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force! You are about to embark upon a great crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers in arms on other fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world. — General Dwight D. Eisenhower, June 6, 1944