Tuesday, November 15, 2016
On this date in 1956 Elvis Presley made his movie debut in Love Me Tender.
Love Me Tender was originally going to be a smaller budget film called The Reno Brothers, and, in fact, the role of Clint Reno in the film was going to be a small part. Then they cast Elvis Presley and everything changed.
Presley didn't get top billing in the movie, but he clearly had a huge impact, with the studios giving extra funding for the film, growing the size of his role, changing the title to the name of Elvis' hit song, and adding in several more musical numbers for the King.
This would be the beginning of a long-running pattern of Presley wanting to do serious dramatic roles and the studios putting in a ton of songs for him to sing.
The film was a hit and had already made back its money in the first weekend.
Presley would go on to star in 31 movies (not counting another two concert documentaries). It would be the last time he didn't get top billing.
Wednesday, November 9, 2016
For us Baby Boomers, the Berlin Wall was a visible symbol of fear, oppression, and the Cold War.
I think most of us assumed the wall, erected by East Germany in 1961, would forever separate the free section of Berlin from the communist section of East Berlin.
However, on this day in 1989, the wall came down.
The fall of the Berlin Wall was actually an accident.
On that fatefull day, Gunter Schabowski was placed in charge of announcing East Germany's newest travel rules, which entailed a new visa application process launching the following day that would allow certain people to go from East Berlin to West Berlin. Problem is, apparently nobody explained all this to Gunter Schabowski.
When he got to the microphone, he announced that all travel visa restrictions would be lifted, because he thought that was actually what he was supposed to say. When asked when this would happen, a flustered Schabowski started leafing through his notes before giving up and saying, "As far as I'm aware, immediately." Well that was all it took for history to happen.
When people came to the Bornholmer Street checkpoint to cross over to West Berlin, an officer named Harald Jager was caught off guard. Overwhelmed by the moment and not getting any help from the higher ups, Jager allowed people to cross over, following the apparent instructions of Schabowski. At that point, the floodgates were open, people started pouring over and down came the wall.
Tuesday, November 8, 2016
On Nov. 8, 1960, John F. Kennedy became the youngest man ever to be elected president of the United States, narrowly beating Republican Vice President Richard Nixon.
Kennedy was also the first Catholic to become president.
The campaign was hard fought and bitter. For the first time, presidential candidates engaged in televised debates.
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Monday, November 7, 2016
On this day in 1980, the actor Steve McQueen, one of Hollywood’s leading men of the 1960s and 1970s and the star of such action thrillers as Bullitt and The Towering Inferno, dies at the age of 50 in Mexico, where he was undergoing an experimental treatment for cancer.
During the 1960s, McQueen built a reputation for playing cool, loner heroes in a list of films that included the Western The Magnificent Seven (1960), which was directed by John Sturges and also featured Yul Brynner and Charles Bronson; The Great Escape (1963), in which McQueen played a U.S. solider in World War II who makes a daring motorcycle escape from a German prison camp; and The Sand Pebbles (1966), a war epic for which he received a Best Actor Oscar nomination.
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Friday, November 4, 2016
On November 4th, 1979, the Iranian hostage crisis began as militants stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, captured 52 Americans, and held the hostage for the next 444 days.
You've likely seen or at least heard of Argo, the Ben Affleck movie based on the true story of CIA operative Antonio Mendez who saved six Americans who had evaded capture during the embassy attack and found refuge with Canadian diplomats.
His plan involved pretending he and the six hideaways were part of a film crew, and that required taking the steps any genuine crew would. They had to set up an actual studio in case anyone called, and they needed an actual script to "shoot." They found the latter in an adaptation of the science fiction novel Lord of the Light.
"I was thinking that, for operational purposes, the more confusing the better. If someone were to stop us, then it would be easy for us to overwhelm them with confusing conceptual jargon," said Mendez.
According to Mendez, his partner suggested calling it Argo. "It was the name of the ship that Jason and the Argonauts sailed in to liberate the Golden Fleece against impossible odds."
Meanwhile, there was also a rescue attempt that didn't go so smoothly.
It was called Operation Eagle Claw and involved eight helicopters flying from checkpoint to checkpoint before finally landing 50 miles south of Tehran and sending in CIA operatives to storm the embassy. The hostages would then be taken by helicopters to more helicopters and eventually freedom. In other words, it only involved about eighteen steps. And things went wrong on the first one.
Weather and technology problems knocked out three helicopters, and the mission was aborted. When another crashed during the evacuation, the helicopters were abandoned. The end result: an embarrassing failure for the United States and Iran gaining a few new helicopters, some of which they still use to this day.
The United States and Iran finally reached an agreement to bring the captives back in December of 1980. Then Iran held the hostages there even longer. They waited all the way until when Ronald Reagan was sworn in as president before letting the plane carrying the hostages take off for America. It's no secret that Iran hated President Jimmy Carter, and this was seen as sort of one final slap in the face of Carter before he left office.
This timing even once prompted an investigation into whether Reagan and Iran had reached some sort of backroom deal before the election. After all, the crisis did plenty to wreck Carter's reelection hopes. That investigation found no evidence of any such deal, but it's still a conspiracy theory that's out there.
Thursday, November 3, 2016
On this day in 1954, the original film Godzilla (or Gojira as it was called in Japan) was released in in that country, unleashing a series of terrifying monster attacks that continue until today.
In the film, Godzilla symbolizes nuclear holocaust and has since been culturally identified as a strong metaphor for nuclear weapons.
"The theme of the film, from the beginning, was the terror of the bomb. Mankind had created the bomb, and now nature was going to take revenge on mankind," producer Tomoyuki has explained.