The Schnozzola

By | Feb 10, 2017

Nearly everyone knows him as the voice of the narrator of the classic Christmas cartoon Frosty the Snowman. Jimmy Durante was the voice and at the time he was near the end of a career that lasted for nearly 70 years.

James Francis Durante was born on February 10, 1893 in Brooklyn, New York. Durante had one unique feature. That being a huge nose. During his career he made jokes about it calling it a “Schnozzola”.

Durante began his show business career as a Ragtime piano player. When appearing in Coney Island around 1911 he was billed as “Ragtime Jimmy”. He would adopt the new New Orleans Jazz style and worked as a performer and promoter of Jazz into the 1920s.

In the late 1920s he would turn to the Vaudeville Theater as part of the comic team Clayton, Jackson and Durante. He and the team became quite popular in New York. So popular that he was asked to do the play Jumbo. This role was the one that pushed him into stardom.

From here he would expand into movies, radio and when the new medium was expanding, Television. He became one of the most popular performers of his generation. He would die on January 29, 1980

Jimmy Durante is associated with two phrases. Those are: “Inka Dinka Doo” and “Good night, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are.” “Inka Dinka Doo” was the 1934 novelty he recorded and it became his theme song.

“Good night, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are.” was the line that he closed his radio and later his television program. For a while he kept the reason for it a secret until he finally told that it referred to his first wife, Jeanne Olsen, whom he married on June 19, 1921 and who died on Valentine’s Day in 1943. Calabash was a small town near Chicago that they had stayed in while on a tour. A town which she fell in love.

The Tramp’s First Appearance

By | Feb 7, 2017

Whenever anyone speaks of Charlie Chaplin, the image that will come to mind is his signature character, the Little Tramp. Chaplin himself called him The Little Fellow. The character rarely was referred to by any name onscreen.

The Little Tramp was first seen by the public when Keystone released the comedy short Kid Auto Races at Venice on February 7, 1914. This was actually the second time Chaplin played the character. The first filmed production was Mabel’s Strange Predicament, which was released two days later on February 9th.

It’s not hard to picture the character. He wore a pair of baggy pants, tight coat, a derby hat, large shoes and had a small mustache. Chaplin said in his autobiography, “… on the way to the wardrobe I thought I would dress in baggy pants, big shoes, a cane and a derby hat. I wanted everything to be a contradiction: the pants baggy, the coat tight, the hat small and the shoes large. I was undecided whether to look old or young, but remembering Sennett had expected me to be a much older man, I added a small moustache, which I reasoned, would add age without hiding my expression.”

The Little Tramp soon became a very popular character. Chaplin made 34 short films in 1914 with Keystone, before moving to Essanay Studio in 1915 and Mutual in 1916. Chaplin would assume control of his productions in 1918. There were only a few productions during the Silent Era that Chaplin played characters other than the Little Tramp.

Perhaps the best film to feature the Little Tramp was the 1925 film The Gold Rush. It was in that film that the classic scene of the starving man, during the Yukon Gold Rush, carved and ate an old boot.

In 1981, IBM acquired the rights for the Little Tramp from the Chaplin family to used the character in a series of ads for their new personal computer. The idea was that even Charlie the common man could use a computer.

He Played Golf Where?

By | Feb 6, 2017

It took three swings before astronaut Alan B. Shepard finally hit the golf ball on February 6, 1971. What was amazing is when the swing was made he was suited in his space gear standing on the moon as part of Apollo 14. Shepard after a solid hit with a second ball stated that it traveled, “Miles and miles and miles”. This was the first any only time that golf was played on the moon.

The balls didn’t actually go for miles. Shepard later gave his estimate to be about 200 to 400 yards. Considering that he swung with one hand in a suit that restricted movement, with a rigged six iron, it wasn’t a bad shot. The golf shot was unplanned and unauthorized. Shepard smuggled the golf club head inside his uniform.

The Apollo 14 mission was the first mission after the failed Apollo 13 mission. Alan Shepard along with Edgar Mitchell became the 5th and 6th man to walk on the moon. Stuart Roosa orbited the moon in the Command Module.

The mission lasted from January 31 to February 9, 1971. Shepard and Mitchell spent 33 1/2 hours on the moon. Nine hours and 23 minutes was spent outside of the Lunar Capsule.

This was Shepard’s second and final time in space. Ten years earlier on May 5, 1961, he became the first American to travel into space when he piloted Freedom 7. That flight was a sub-orbital flight which carried him to an altitude of 116 statute miles. With the Apollo 14 mission he became the only astronaut from Project Mercury to reach the moon. At 47, he also was the oldest to walk on the moon.

For Shepard the mission was a personal triumph. He had been grounded from 1964 to 1968 from Ménière’s disease, a condition in which fluid pressure builds up in the inner ear. An operation performed in 1968 was able to remedy the problem and he was allowed to fly again. Even though Alan B. Shepard never intended to be a hero, he was one.

The Day the Music Died?

By | Feb 3, 2017

It really wasn’t the day that the music died, although it may have been the end of an era. On that day three of Rock and Roll’s young stars (Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson, the Big Bopper) were involved in an early morning plane crash. The day was February 3, 1959 and happened in Clear Lake, Iowa. All on the plane were killed.

Holly, Valens, Richardson (the Big Bopper) along with Dion and the Belmonts were on a road tour called Winter Dance Party. The groups were touring in unheated buses in freezing temperatures when Buddy Holly decided to charter a small plane to their next stop. The small plane could hold four people including the pilot, the cost was $36 person. He chartered it for himself and his two band mates, Waylon Jennings and Tommy Allsup.

During the tour J.P. Richardson, the Big Bopper, had developed the flu and asked Jennings if he could go instead of him. Jennings agreed.

Jennings was until his death haunted over the crash in part over an exchange of words between him and Buddy Holly. Holly had said to Jennings, “”Well, I hope your ol’ bus freezes up.” Jennings responded, “Well, I hope your ol’ plane crashes.”

Ritchie Valens had never flown in a small plane and asked Tommy Allsup if he could have his seat. With a coin flip, tossed by the DJ at ballroom where they played that night, Valens had the last seat.

Dion DiMucci of Dion and the Belmonts was approached, but declined. He couldn’t see paying the price of 36 dollars, a sum which he had seen his parent argue over this price for apartment rent.

Remembering the Andrews Sisters

By | Jan 30, 2017

With the death of Patty Andrews on January 30, 2013, an era of music is gone too. Patty Andrews, along with her sisters LaVerne and Maxene, sang the Boogie-Woogie music of the late 1930s and the 1940s.

Patricia Marie (Patty) Andrews was the lead singer and the youngest of the sisters. She was born on February 16, 1918 and was only 7 when the sisters began singing together.

LaVerne Sophia Andrews was born on July 6, 1911 and died from cancer on May 8, 1967. After her death the two remaining sisters continued to perform together with for another year until Maxene became the Dean of Women at Tahoe Paradise College.

Maxene Angelyn Andrews was January 3, 1916 and died on October 21, 1995.

The sisters first came to national attention with their recordings and radio broadcasts in 1937. One of their early hits was Bei Mir Bist Du Schön originally a Yiddish tune. They followed this success with a string of best-selling records over the next two years and they became a household name by 1940.

Even though they recorded in the decades of the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s they can be considered the best-selling female vocal group in the history of popular music. They recorded a little over 600 songs of which 113 charted on Billboard charts. 46 of these reached Top 10 status (more than Elvis Presley or The Beatles). They appeared in 17 movies.

A Fire in Space Exploration

By | Jan 27, 2017

President John F. Kennedy’s goal of landing a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s was well on scheduled until January 27, 1967. 50 years ago the Moon project was put on hold. A fire in the command module sitting atop a Saturn IB rocket, just weeks before the first manned Apollo mission was set to blast-off, killed three astronauts.

Command Pilot Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, Senior Pilot Edward Higgins White, II and Pilot Roger B. Chaffee.

Gus Grissom, born on April 3, 1926 in Mitchell, Indiana, was one of the first astronauts selected in 1959 for the Mercury Program. He was the second person to fly in space on Liberty Bell 7, launched on on July 21, 1961. He also flew in the Gemini program as the Command Pilot on Gemini 3, launched on March 23, 1965.

Ed White, born November 14, 1930 in San Antonio, Texas, was chosen as one of the second group of astronauts in 1962. He was the pilot of Gemini 4 launched on June 3, 1965 and during that mission 4 hours after lift-off he performed the first Spacewalk by an American. He was outside of the capsule for 15 minutes 40 seconds.

Roger Chaffee, born February 15, 1935 in Grand Rapids, Michigan, had been chosen as one of the third group of astronauts in 1963. This would have been his first mission into space.

Chaffee and Grissom are both buried in Section 3 of Arlington National Cemetery. White is buried at West Point Cemetery. These three fallen men were heroes in every sense of the word and even in death helped the United States become the only nation on earth to sent men to the moon.

750px-apollo1-crew_01 From left to right; Grissom, White and Chaffee

Gold in Dem Dare Hills

By | Jan 24, 2017

John W. Marshall had developed a partnership with John Sutter, the founder of Sutter’s Fort, California to build a sawmill. The area around Sutter’s Fort would eventually become Sacramento. Marshall’s job was to oversee the construction and operation of the mill. The location where they decided to build the mill was around 40 miles from Sutter’s Fort along the American River. Work began on the mill in August of 1847, but it was a small discovery on January 24, 1848 that changed the the area, California and the United States. He discovered some shiny rocks in the channel. These rocks were gold.

When the discovery of gold was made, California was still part of Mexico, although it was under the protection of the United States military as a result of the Mexican-American War. It wasn’t until a little over a week later on February 2, 1847 that the treaty ending the war was signed.

Sutter had the dreams of building the area into an agricultural empire and feared that the announcement of gold being discovered would cause a mass search for gold and ruin his plans. Even though he tried to keep the discovery quiet word got out and the search for gold was on. By the end of 1849 the European (American) population had grown to over 100,000 from 15,000. The city of San Francisco alone grew from a quiet, nearly ghost town with an economy based on the sea of around 1000 in 1848 to a booming 25,000 by 1850. San Francisco was the major sea port for imports and exports of the area.

At the time that gold was discovered in California, William T. Sherman, yes the same Sherman who marched across Georgia in 1864 during the Civil War, was a Lieutenant stationed in California. By 1853 he had resigned his commission and became the President of the Bank of San Francisco. The bank would fail in 1857 and he left California for Kansas and then Louisiana, before going north after Louisiana seceded. The rest as they say is history.

1849 was the year of the gold rush and those who went to California in 1849 are commonly known as 49ers. Today many of the gold rush towns such as Placerville, Auburn, Grass Valley, Coloma, Jackson, and Sonora are connected by California route 49.

However, Marshall’s life, as did Sutter’s, was negatively effected by the discovery of gold. The sawmill failed when all able-bodied men left in search of gold. By the end of his life Marshall was penniless. But he is still remembered since in 1890 a monument was built over his grave that overlooks the area where he discovered the gold. On top of the monument is a statue of Marshall pointing to the spot where he found the gold.

USS Nautilus – The World’s First Nuclear-Powered Submarine

By | Jan 21, 2017

About two and a half years after the US Congress authorized the construction of a nuclear-powered submarine, the USS Nautilus was officially launched into the Thames River in Connecticut on January 21, 1954.

The name Nautilus was selected to be the name of the submarine with the announcement on December 12, 1951. It was the sixth US Navy vessel so named following a 12-gun schooner of 1799, a 76-foot survey schooner of 1838, the first military submarine in 1911, a 66-foot patrol/escort of 1917, and a Narwhal class submarine built in 1930.

The nautilus is a mollusk found in the Indian and Pacific oceans. They have a spiral, pearly-lined shell with a series of air-filled chambers.

Later in 1954 on September 30th the submarine was commissioned, beginning its first assignment on January 17, 1955. At 11:00 the ship radioed command with the message “Underway on nuclear power.”

During the summer of 1958 the sub began her history-making polar transit, operation “Sunshine”. She submerged in the Barrow Sea Valley on August 1st setting a course that would take her under the ice to the North Pole. She reached the North Pole, the first water craft to accomplish that goal, on August 3rd at 11 am EST.

The Nautilus was decommissioned on March 3, 1980. During it’s 25 year career the sub traveled half a million miles. The Secretary of the Interior, James G. Watt, declared the sub a National Historic Landmark on May 20, 1982. Currently the Nautilus serves as a museum of submarine history in Groton, Connecticut. She opened to the public on April 11, 1986, eighty-six years to the day after the birth of the Submarine Force.

Robert E. Lee – The Lee of Lee-Jackson Day

By | Jan 19, 2017

January 19th 2017 is the 210th anniversary of the birth of Robert E. Lee. Lee was born in 1807, the son of Henry “Light Horse Harry) Lee III, a general of the American Revolution. He was raised mostly by his mother since his father died in 1812 from a mob attack on him in Baltimore.

Robert E. Lee

Robert E. Lee would be considered one of the best General’s in United States history had it not been that he lead the southern forces during the Civil War. He graduated 2nd out of the 46 graduates of the Class of 1829. He was a superb Army Engineer serving in the Mexican War with General Winfield Scott. He served as Commander of West Point, bringing it up to a rank equal to any of the best military schools.

Lee was in command of the military force that was sent to Harper’s Ferry in 1859 to put down the rebellion of John Brown. Lee was against the notion of secession, but he turned down the offer to command the United States Army and resigned his commission when his home state of Virginia left the Union. He offered his services to Jefferson Davis, newly elected President of the Confederate States of America. His first duties were more as a advisor to Davis until he finally took command of the Confederate Army.

During the War, the home that he shared with his wife was seized. His wife was Anna Randolph Custis, the Great Granddaughter of Martha Custis Washington. She had inherited the estate, called Arlington House from her father when he died in 1857. The estate’s property is now known as Arlington National Cemetery.
Anna Randolph Lee - Wife of Robert E. Lee
Due to a clerical error, Lee was not granted amnesty after the war, although he declared his allegiance to the United States and filled out the forms of The Amnesty Oath. The oath had been filed away, perhaps thought to have been a copy and not the original until it was discovered in 1970 among State Department records. In 1975 Robert E. Lee was granted his pardon with full rights of citizenship. At the August 5, 1975 signing ceremony president Ford remarked, “General Lee’s character has been an example to succeeding generations, making the restoration of his citizenship an event in which every American can take pride.”

In 1889 the State of Virginia created a holiday that celebrated Lee’s Birthday of January 19. In 1904, another native Virginian, Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson was added to the holiday, making it Lee-Jackson Day. Jackson’s birth was January 21, 1824. When it was decided to make a holiday around Martin Luther King birth of January 15, for a few years the holiday was in honor of all three of these men. However, due to the fact that Lee-Jackson and King are considered to be from two different ends of a political climate, Virginia moved Lee-Jackson Day to the Friday nearest to Lee’s Birth. This would either be the Friday before or the Friday after Martin Luther King Day. This year it was held on January 13th.

Thomas ‘Stonewall” Jackson

Prohibition – A Failed Amendment

By | Jan 16, 2017

Almost from the beginning as a nation the United States the manufacturing, sales and use of intoxicating liquor has been a political issue. Early in the Washington Administration, George Washington needed to deal with the issue with what is commonly known as the Whiskey Rebellion. This was as a result of the taxing of whiskey.

Throughout the 19th century groups, the temperance movement, worked toward having alcohol use prohibited. On January 16, 1920 Wyoming, the 36th state to do so, ratified the 18th Amendment to the US Constitution. This amendment prohibited the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors.

Intoxicating Liquors is defined in the “Volstead Act,” passed by congress overriding the Veto of President Woodrow Wilson on October 28, 1919. The act defined intoxicating liquor as any beverage containing over 0.5% alcohol.

Prohibition helped to bring to the front Organized Crime. Not only did criminal gangs create underground drinking establishment, at times with support of local politicians and authorities, these gangs fought each other for control. The 1920s in the United States was a very violent decade with many citing Prohibition as a major cause.

Distilleries and breweries in other countries such as Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean flourished during this period. Much of their products were either consumed by Americans, either while visiting these countries or illegally imported to the United States.

By 1933 public support of Prohibition was very small and on February 20th Congress proposed a repeal of the 18th Amendment. Ratification came quickly and on December 5th Utah became the 36th state to ratify the 21th Amendment. The 18th Amendment is the only amendment to the US Constitution to have been fully repealed.

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