Milestones: Wednesday, July 12, 2023
UNCLE MILTIE! — MILTON BERLE, born 115 years ago on July 12, 1908, as Morton Berlinger in Harlem, NY, may have been nicknamed “Mr. Television,” but to many, he was simply, “Uncle Miltie.” He enjoyed a long career as a comedian in vaudeville, film, radio, and TV. Already popular before his time as host of NBC’s Texaco Star Theater, which debuted 75 years ago in 1948, the show catapulted him to national stardom, particularly as his show attracted some of the biggest stars of the time.
Berle was one of the first seven inductees into the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences’ TV Hall of Fame, in 1984, and in good company with a charter class that included Lucille Ball, Norman Lear, and Edward R. Murrow.
THAWED THE COLD WAR — VAN CLIBURN, born on July 12, 1934 in Louisiana as Harvey Lavan Cliburn Jr., got his piano lessons as a child from his mother and made his concert debut the year he turned 13. In the midst of the Cold War, Cliburn, who by now lived in Texas, competed in the Tchaikovsky International Music Competition, which had been established to elevate Russian talent and superiority. The jury, among whose members were Soviet luminaries like pianist Sviatoslav Richter and Soviet Armenian composer Aram Khachaturian. Then, a surprise happened: 23-year-old Cliburn performed Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff with spiritual mastery, and the Russians were enthralled with both his artistry and his genuine warmth and demeanor. The jury had to request permission of Soviet Premiere Nikita Khrushchev to award the grand prize, and he consented.
Cliburn enjoyed a successful concert career and later founded the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition to aid young pianists.
GUESSING SURVEYS — The TV game show “FAMILY FEUD” made its premiere on July 12, 1976, and was produced by Mark Goodson and Bill Todman. This game show pits two families against each other to accumulate a greater number of points, which they gain by accurately predicting the most popular answers to survey questions, including some risqué ones. The show, which has ended and then been revived more than once, has had four hosts, including Richard Dawson, the infamous “kissing host.”
Current host Steve Harvey, who has been with the show since 2010, helped boost the show’s ratings after it experienced a decline.
INVENTOR AND FUTURIST — R. BUCKMINSTER FULLER, born on July 12, 1895, as Richard Buckminster Fuller, was an inventor, architect, and independent thinker who had an innate understanding of the connection between the sciences, physical materials, and faith. A gifted academician, he at an early age questioned some of the limitations in how geometry was taught and embarked on a study of Synergistics. Fuller gained fame for his version of another inventor’s geodesic dome — a lattice shell structure used as parts of military radar stations, civic buildings, environmental protest camps and exhibition attractions — a foremost innovation during the 20th century. Fuller designed the Dymaxion car during the Great Depression and this was featured prominently at Chicago’s 1933/1934 World’s Fair. However, its use (which he never intended to expand commercially) resulted in tragedy during a prototype drive.
Fuller was twice expelled from Harvard, though for disciplinary reasons; and he considered himself a misfit to fraternity life. However, later in life, he held full professorships and fellowships at colleges around the country.
‘TITAN OF THE THEATER’ — OSCAR HAMMERSTEIN II, born in New York City on July 12, 1895, became master of the musical play, and a “titan of the theater”, even though he went against his father William’s wishes. Although an excellent student who graduated from Columbia University and attended its law school, that profession did not interest young Oscar, and he left. The grandson of an opera producer, Oscar collaborated with Jerome Kern and — most famously — with Richard Rodgers, a partnership that created “Oklahoma!,” “Show Boat,” “Carousel,” “The King and I,” “South Pacific,” and “The Sound of Music,” among others. His songs are standard fare for singers using the Great American Songbook. He won two Academy Awards, the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and eight Tony Awards.
Oscar Hammerstein II was related to the 19th-century anti-slavery newspaper publisher Horace Greeley, his maternal grandfather. His paternal grandfather, Oscar Hammerstein I, was an opera producer. The middle generation, Willie Hammerstein, although a vaudeville producer, did not want young Oscar to pursue a theatrical career.
LIVING DELIBERATELY — HENRY DAVID THOREAU, born in Concord, Massachusetts on July 12, 1817 (and who died there at age 44), was an American philosopher, author, teacher, and leader in the transcendentalism movement. Uninterested in the traditional professions available to men at the time (law, medicine, business, or ministry), he was impassioned with the idea of living with nature and as simply as possible. Thoreau’s 1854 masterpiece, “Walden,” which required reading in schools, shared his views on nature, politics, and philosophy, during a period of two years and two months while he lived at Walden Pond in Concord, farming, selling his produce to support himself. His famous essay, “Civil Disobedience” (originally published as “Resistance to Civil Government”), was an argument for resisting an unjust government and its policies; he was an abolitionist, for example.
Thoreau wrote in “Walden”: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
FIRST WOMAN VP CANDIDATE — Walter Mondale, the leading Democratic presidential candidate in the 1984 Presidential Campaign, announced on July 12 of that year his selection of Representative Geraldine Ferraro of New York as his running mate. Ferraro thus became the first female vice presidential candidate to represent a major political party. A daughter of Italian immigrants, Ferraro was already an outspoken advocate of women’s rights in Congress. However, she never got to be vice president; as Mondale, considered a bland candidate who seemed to stand in her shadow, lost the election in a landslide to former actor Ronald Reagan, who had run for a second term.
After leaving Congress the following year, Ferraro had two unsuccessful Senate campaigns in 1992 and 1998. But President Bill Clinton did appoint her as a permanent member of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. The United States currently has its first woman vice president, Kamala Harris.
MEDALS OF HONOR — President Abraham Lincoln on July 12, 1862, signed into law a measure calling for the awarding of a U.S. Army Medal of Honor, in the name of Congress, “to such noncommissioned officers and privates as shall most distinguish themselves by their gallantry in action, and other soldier-like qualities during the present insurrection.” The previous December, Lincoln had approved a provision creating a U.S. Navy Medal of Valor, which was the basis of the Army Medal of Honor that Congress established. The first U.S. Army soldiers to receive what would become the nation’s highest military honor were six members of a Union raiding party who in 1862 penetrated deep into Confederate territory to destroy bridges and railroad tracks between Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Atlanta, Georgia.
Theodore Roosevelt is the only U.S. president to have received the Medal of Honor, which he was awarded posthumously.
See previous milestones, here.
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