October 15, 1954: I Have People To Fetch My Sticks

Long before he debuted in his own television show on October 15, 1954, Rin Tin Tin had become an international celebrity. It was as good a rags-to-riches story as Hollywood could churn out. He was rescued rin-tin-tin_from a World War I battlefield by an American soldier who trained him to be an actor upon returning home. He starred in several silent films, becoming an overnight sensation and going on to appear in another two dozen films before his death in 1932.

Rinty (as he was known to his friends) was responsible for a great surge in German Shepherds as pets. The popularity of his films helped make Warner Brothers a major studio and pushed a guy named Darryl F. Zanuck to success as a producer.

During the following years Rin Tin Tin Jr. and Rin Tin Tin III kept the Rin Tin Tin legacy alive in film and on the radio. Rin Tin Tin IV was slated to take the franchise to television in The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin, but he flunked his screen test and was shamefully replaced by an upstart poseur named Flame.

The TV series featured an orphan named Rusty who was being raised by soldiers at a cavalry post known as Fort Apache.  Rin Tin Tin was the kid’s dog. It was a low budget affair, filmed on sets used for other productions with actors frequently called upon to play several soldiers, Apaches, and desperadoes in a single episode. Although it was children’s programming, you might not guess that by the lofty literary titles of many episodes: Rin Tin Tin Meets Shakespeare, Rin Tin Tin and the Barber of Seville, Rin Tin Tin and the Ancient Mariner, Rin Tin Tin and the Connecticut Yankee.

Meanwhile, IV stayed at home on his ranch, fooling visitors into believing he was actually a TV star (and perhaps contemplating a run for President).

Rated P. G.

“Freddie experienced the sort of abysmal soul-sadness which afflicts one of Tolstoy’s Russian peasants when, after putting in a heavy day’s work strangling his father, beating his wife, and dropping the baby into the city’s reservoir, he turns to the cupboards, only to find the vodka bottle wodehouseempty.” One line from someone who had a great knack for them, which he displayed in over 300 stories, 90 books, 30 plays and musicals, and 20 film scripts. Comic novelist P.G. Wodehouse, creator of Jeeves the butler, was born on this day in 1881 in Surrey, England.

 

He had the look of one who had drunk the cup of life and found a dead beetle at the bottom.

Mike nodded. A sombre nod. The nod Napoleon might have given if somebody had met him in 1812 and said, “So, you’re back from Moscow, eh?”

I could see that, if not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled.

She looked as if she had been poured into her clothes and had forgotten to say ‘when.’

The fascination of shooting as a sport depends almost wholly on whether you are at the right or wrong end of the gun.

Every author really wants to have letters printed in the papers. Unable to make the grade, he drops down a rung of the ladder and writes novels.

It was my Uncle George who discovered that alcohol was a food well in advance of modern medical thought.

And she’s got brains enough for two, which is the exact quantity the girl who marries you will need.

At the age of eleven or thereabouts women acquire a poise and an ability to handle difficult situations which a man, if he is lucky, manages to achieve somewhere in the later seventies.

 

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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.

groucho

September 29, 1913: And That Spells Gladiolus

“G-L-A-D-I-O-L-U-S,” said 11-year-old Frank Neuhauser with just a bit of apprehension. After all, eight of the final nine competing super-spellers had crashed and burned before Frank faced his inquisitor. His spellingspelling was right on; he was the winner of the first ever National Spelling Bee, the last kid standing out of some two million competitors. His victory earned Frank $500 and a meeting with President Calvin Coolidge. Fortunately, the President did not ask him to spell “executive privilege.”

It was a big time for a little boy. Folks in his hometown Louisville held a parade in his honor. Schoolmates gave him a new bicycle.

That was back in 1925. Today, the bee, now known as the Scripps National Spelling Bee, features 11 million children in local contests throughout the United States and abroad. The field is reduced to some 270 finalists who convene in Washington for two days of competition.

Frank Neuhauser who was born on September 29, 1913, went on to become a successful patent attorney. During his later years, he was frequently a guest of honor at the spelling bees. He died in 2011 at the age of 97.

The National Spelling Bee has certainly become more challenging over the years. One might argue that Frank Neuhauser’s “gladiolus” was a piece of cake — or, for that matter, “cerise” in 1926 or “knack” in 1932. Try “syllepsis” from 1958 or “esquamulose.” There’s “vivisepulture” from 1996 and “appoggiatura” from 2005 — words our spell checker couldn’t handle.

Sing Cowboy, Sing

If you were a cowboy with the name Orton Grover, you’d probably change your name. Orton did, and became a legendary singing cowboy gene-autry-quotes-2with the more melodic name Gene Autry. Born September 29, 1907, Autry became a major presence in the movies and on radio and television, beginning in the 1930s and stretching into the 1950s.

He was the ultimate straight-shooter — brave and honest with impeccable manners and good posture. He distilled his philosophy into the Ten Cowboy Commandments:

  1. The Cowboy must never shoot first, hit a smaller man, or take unfair advantage.
  2. He must never go back on his word, or a trust confided in him.
  3. He must always tell the truth.
  4. He must be gentle with children, the elderly, and animals.
  5. He must not advocate or possess racially or religiously intolerant ideas.
  6. He must help people in distress.
  7. He must be a good worker.
  8. He must keep himself clean in thought, speech, action, and personal habits.
  9. He must respect women, parents, and his nation’s laws.
  10. The Cowboy is a patriot.

Autry was also influential in the evolution of country music, his movies bringing cowboy music to a national audience with hits such as “That Silver-Haired Daddy of Mine,” “Tumbling Tumbleweeds,” “South of the Border,” and “You Are My Sunshine.” He also owned such Christmas classics as “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Here Comes Santa Claus.”

And no, we did not forget his signature song:

 

 

 

September 28, 1951: Show a Little Responsibility, Earthlings

It’s a classic sci-fi scenario. A flying saucer lands in Washington D.C. (or substitute your favorite location). A very trigger happy Army battalion immediately surrounds the alien vehicle. A single individual emerges,day-the-earth-stood-still2 looking for all the world like one of us except for his shiny spacesuit. He claims to come in peace but the Army is having none of it. We need to build a wall, everyone agrees.  The space visitor who arrived in theaters everywhere on September 28, 1951, went by the name Klaatu (as in “Klaatu barada nikto”) and was played with alien sophistication by British actor Michael Rennie. The film, as any five-year-old space junkie can tell you, was The Day the Earth Stood Still.

Naturally, within minutes of declaring his peaceful intentions, Klaatu is shot by an over-zealous soldier. Klaatu’s very large, metallic sidekick emerges from the spaceship and quickly turns all the Army’s weapons into so much NRA dust. Klaatu is taken to the hospital where, when no one is looking, he heals himself. He then goes missing to move among the people in attempt to discover just what makes earthlings tick We quickly discover that he is wiser and more reasonable than all of us put together.

Klaatu takes a room at a boarding house, where he meets a widow and her son who become thoroughly entwined in the plot. He also meets an Einstein-like professor who is smart enough to converse with Klaatu on his level. Klaatu explains to the professor in a non-belligerent manner that, even though he has come in peace, that doesn’t mean’s not going to destroy the planet  (unlike the aliens in War of the Worlds who pulverized first and asked questions later). It seems that folks from elsewhere in the galaxy are a little concerned about our playing around with weapons of mass destruction.

Various sub-plots play themselves out as the movie hurtles toward a final showdown during which Klaatu politely tells all the world’s scientists that if they don’t play nice “this Earth of yours will be reduced to a burned-out cinder.”

Klaatu then bids them a fond farewell, and he and his metallic sidekick ride off into space, as one bystander asks another bystander: “Who was that masked man?”

 

 

September 19, 1975: A, Alligators All Around

Back in 1967, folks looked around and suddenly noticed a dearth of alligators.  Not in Vermont, of course. Vermont has always had a dearth of alligators. And some Vermonters are perfectly happy with that.  But they looked around swampy places like Florida, Louisiana, and Alabama and saw a lack of these creatures that had been abundant since prehistoric times.

They should have seen it coming. Alligator shoes. Alligator handbags. Alligator wallets. Alligator briefcases. Alligator jackets. Alligator cutlets.alligator Basically anything you make from a cow you can make from an alligator. And it’s swankier. (You probably wouldn’t want to milk an alligator though.) Everyone was after alligators and we began to run out of them, so they made the endangered species list.

Alligators enjoyed being on the endangered species list. Along with giving them a certain cachet, it protected them. And they prospered. Life was good. And they went forth and multiplied. And multiplied. They multiplied so energetically that eight years later on September 19, 1975, they were removed from the endangered species list. O frabjous day!

Alligator watch fob anyone?

That Gator Got Me Pegleg

Those swampy places that were occupied by alligators often provided hideaways for another endangered species — mean, swarthy pirates. From their swampy hideaways they could sail out and pillage and plunder and do a host of mean, swarthy pirate things.

A certain segment of society longs for the golden age of piracy (certainly a lot more than the golden age of alligators). It is these folks that celebrate International Talk Like A Pirate Day with the same gusto that the Irish celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. The day began as an inside joke between two friends but gained momentum when they sent a letter about their invented holiday to a humor columnist who promoted the day.

And how does one talk like a pirate? One takes a listen to the patron saint of the holiday, English actor Robert Newton, who specialized in piracy portrayal, most notably as Long John Silver in the 1950 Disney film Treasure Island. Arrrr, matey.

Or talk like an alligator.

You’ll find plenty of pirate talk (along with romance, adventure and lots of gratuitous swashbuckling in Terry and the Pirate.  “Hangin’ be a proper death.  Or how about we shoot ‘im.  Not weaselly like in the back but man-to-man like, facing him front on and puttin’ the bullet atween ‘is eyes.”  Check it out.

 

 

 

September 15, 1907: It Was Beauty Killed the Beast

W.C. Fields cautioned against working with children or animals because they’re sure to steal the scene. You might say the same about a 50-foot gorilla. But scream queen Fay Wray had the big guy eating out of the palm of her hand (actually she spent quite a few scenes in the palm of faywrayhis hand). Born Vina Fay Wray on September 15, 1907, she became well-known for her roles in a series of horror movies, spanning the evolution from silent to talkie. But it was her role as the love of King Kong’s life that remained her primary claim to fame throughout a 57-year career in both movies and television.

In 2004, Peter Jackson approached her for a cameo in his remake of King Kong. She turned down the role, saying that the first Kong was the true King (Long live the King). Fay Wray died in her sleep that same year, before filming of the remake had begun.

Two days later, the Empire State Building went dark for 15 minutes in her memory.

King Kong had more than its share of “you’re going to regret saying that” lines, such as:

“Yeah, but what’s on the other side of that wall; that’s what I wanna find out.”

“He’s always been king of his world, but we’ll teach him fear.”

“Suppose it doesn’t like having its picture taken?”

Working the Little Gray Cells

In 1920, a new detective appeared upon the literary scene.– a former Belgian police officer with twirly “magnificent moustaches” and an egg-shaped head. Hercule Poirot debuted in The Mysterious Affair at Styles, the first novel by Dame Agatha Christie, “the Queen of Crime,”agatha born on September 15, 1890. It is one of 66 detective novels and 14 short story collections featuring the Belgian detective and several other characters, most notably Miss Marple.

Christie’s career was full of superlatives. She is the best-selling novelist of all time, over 2 billion copies of her books having been sold. Her books are the third most widely-published in the world, trailing only Shakespeare and the Bible. And Then There Were None is the best-selling mystery ever — 100albert_finney_plays_poirot million copies thus far. The Mousetrap is the longest running stage play with more than 25,000 performances and still running. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was named the best crime novel ever by the 600-member Crime Writers’ Association.

Hercule Poirot appeared in half of Christie’s novel and in 54 short stories. By midway through her career, she was finding him “insufferable.” And by the 1960s she described him as an “egocentric creep.” Finally in the 1975 novel Curtain, she disposed of him (although the book was written many years earlier and stored in a bank vault for publication at the end of her life). Most of her books and stories have been adapted for television, radio and movies.

Agatha Christie died in 1976.

 

It is the brain, the little gray cells on which one must rely. One must seek the truth within–not without. ~ Hercule Poirot

August 18, 1930: A Dog Walks into a Bar

The world of Disney (as opposed to Disney World) is “peopled” by a group of cartoon animals who walk on two legs, talk intelligibly and dress stylishly. Mickey came first. Then Minnie. Add Donald plutoDuck, Daisy Duck, and Goofy, and you have five of the characters known as the Sensational Six — the superstars of the Disney universe. The sixth character joined the group on August 18, 1930, with the release of the cartoon short Chain Gang. But he was different from the other five. He walked on all fours, barked and was completely naked. He was an animal animal.

Pluto was nameless in his debut vehicle. It wasn’t until a month later and a second appearance in The Picnic that he acquired the clever name Rover. In the cartoon, Rover belongs to Minnie Mouse who brings him along on a picnic with Mickey. In a Mitt Romney moment, Mickey ties the dog to the back of the car before driving off and dragging him behind. But when the poor pooch spots a couple of frolicking rabbits, he ends up dragging the car and its mouse occupants on a merry chase.

The following year, Rover returned as Mickey’s pet with the new name Pluto the Pup. The origin of that name is the subject of argument. It was back in 1930 that the now ex-planet Pluto was discovered. Was this the source of his name? Or were both planet and dog named after the Roman god of the underworld? And then there’s that other great mystery: If Pluto’s a dog and Goofy’s a dog, why is the latter anthropomorphic and the former not?  Walt remained mum.

 

 

 

 

 

Lady, I do not make up things. That is lies. Lies are not true. But the truth could be made up if you know how. And that’s the truth. ~ Lily Tomlin

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.

 

wr

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.

 

Will-Rogers-Quotes-1

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.

August 12, 1881: Ready When You Are, C.B.

Cecil B. DeMille was a larger-than-life filmmaker throughout the first half of the last century as well as God’s public relations director. Born in 1881 in Ashfield, Massachusetts, he went on to enter the world of theater as an actor, director and playwright.  He helped to establish Paramount Pictures and co-directed his first film, The Squaw Man, the first of over 70 films, in 1914. Through the years, he burnished his reputation with lavish biblical epics such as The King of Kings, Samson and Delilah, and The Ten Commandments.

     DeMille created the first movie to have a budget of more than $1 million, paving the way for his future epics “with a cast of thousands.” Although he was adept at directing thousands of extras, he had a bit of a problem with individual actors, becoming a tad tyrannical on the set.  When making redsea1927′s King of Kings, DeMille demanded that in order to preserve the film’s spiritual integrity, the actors all had to enter into contracts promising that they would not do anything “unbiblical” for five years — that included going to baseball games,  frequenting nightclubs and  driving sexy cars.

     He saw no reason his actors shouldn’t risk their lives for the good of the film.  Although Victor Mature was a superhero in Samson and Delilah, DeMille said he was “100% yellow” because he refused to wrestle a lion. Paulette Goddard lost future roles with the director by refusing to play with fire in Unconquered.

     And he loved spectacle – the parting of the Red Sea in The Ten Commandments, the toppling of the temple in Samson and Delilah, train wrecks in The Road to Yesterday, Union Pacific and The Greatest Show on Earth, and the destruction of a zeppelin in Madame Satan.

     Gloria Swanson immortalized DeMille in a movie he didn’t direct, Sunset Boulevard, with the frequently repeated line: “All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.”

Give me any two pages of the Bible and I’ll give you a picture.  — Cecil B. DeMille