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Almanac – February 14

1941 – Big Jim Sullivan born.  English musician,  best known as a session guitarist. In the 1960s and 1970s he was one of the most in-demand studio musicians in the UK, and performed on  55 UK Number One hits and more than one thousand charting singles over his career,  including…

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1975 – P. G. Wodehouse died. English humorist, whose body of work includes novels, short stories, plays, poems, song lyrics and numerous pieces of journalism.

He enjoyed enormous popular success during a career that lasted more than seventy years and his many writings continue to be widely read. Despite the political and social upheavals that occurred during his life, much of which was spent in France and the United States, Wodehouse’s main canvas remained that of a pre- and post-World War I English upper class society, reflecting his birth, education and youthful writing career.

Best known today for the Jeeves and Blandings Castle novels and short stories, Wodehouse was also a playwright and lyricist who was part author and writer of 15 plays and of 250 lyrics for some 30 musical comedies, many of them produced in collaboration with Jerome Kern and Guy Bolton, and worked with Cole Porter on the musical Anything Goes (1934).

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1989 – James Bond died. American ornithologist,  an expert on the birds of the Caribbean. His name was appropriated by writer Ian Fleming for his fictional spy, James Bond.

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Almanac – January 08

1697Last execution for blasphemy in Britain; of Thomas Aikenhead, student, at Edinburgh. He had been indicted in December 1696, the indictment reading:

That … the prisoner had repeatedly maintained, in conversation, that theology was a rhapsody of ill-invented nonsense, patched up partly of the moral doctrines of philosophers, and partly of poetical fictions and extravagant chimeras: That he ridiculed the holy scriptures, calling the Old Testament Ezra’s fables, in profane allusion to Esop’s Fables; That he railed on Christ, saying, he had learned magick in Egypt, which enabled him to perform those pranks which were called miracles: That he called the New Testament the history of the imposter Christ; That he said Moses was the better artist and the better politician; and he preferred Muhammad to Christ: That the Holy Scriptures were stuffed with such madness, nonsense, and contradictions, that he admired the stupidity of the world in being so long deluded by them: That he rejected the mystery of the Trinity as unworthy of refutation; and scoffed at the incarnation of Christ.

Thomas Babington Macaulay said of Aikenhead’s death that “the preachers who were the poor boy’s murderers crowded round him at the gallows, and. . . insulted heaven with prayers more blasphemous than anything he had uttered.”

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 1843 – Frederick Abberline born. A Chief Inspector for the London Metropolitan Police and was a prominent police figure in the investigation into the Jack the Ripper murders of 1888. As such he’s been represented (sometimes not very authentically) in numerous works of literature, cinema and television.

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1880 – Joshua A. Norton died. The self-proclaimed Imperial Majesty Emperor Norton I, was a celebrated citizen of San Francisco, California, who in 1859 proclaimed himself  Emperor of the United States  and subsequently Protector of Mexico. Although he had no political power, and his influence extended only so far as he was humored by those around him, he was treated deferentially in San Francisco, and currency issued in his name was honored in the establishments he frequented.

Norton collapsed at a street corner, and died before he could be given medical treatment. The following day, nearly 30,000 people packed the streets of San Francisco to pay homage.

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1896 – Paul Verlaine died. French poet associated with the Symbolist movement. He is considered one of the greatest representatives of the fin de siècle in international and French poetry.

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1897 – Dennis Wheatley born. English author whose prolific output of stylish thrillers and occult novels made him one of the world’s best-selling writers from the 1930s through the 1960s. His Gregory Sallust series was one of the main inspirations for Ian Fleming’s James Bond stories, but he’s perhaps better known for titles such as The Devil Rides Out, To The Devil – A Daughter, and  The Ka of Gifford Hillary. He even had a crack at the nascent UFO market (Star Of Ill-Omen, 1952).

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1935 – Elvis Presley born.

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1947 – David Bowie born.

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1948 – Kurt Schwitters died. German painter who  worked in several genres and media, including Dada, Constructivism, Surrealism, poetry, sound, painting, sculpture, graphic design, typography and what came to be known as installation art.

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1981 – A local farmer reported a UFO sighting in Trans-en-Provence, France, claimed to be “perhaps the most completely and carefully documented sighting of all time”.  

Renato Nicolaï, a fifty-five year-old farmer, heard a strange whistling sound while performing agricultural work on his property. He then saw a saucer-shaped object about eight feet in diameter land about 50 yards (46 m) away at a lower elevation.

According to the witness, “The device had the shape of two saucers, one inverted on top of the other. It must have measured about 1.5 meters in height. It was the color of lead. This device had a ridge all the way around its circumference. Under the machine I saw two kinds of pieces as it was lifting off. They could be reactors or feet. There were also two other circles which looked like trapdoors. The two reactors, or feet, extended about 20 cm below the body of the machine.”

Nicolaï claimed the object took off almost immediately, rising above the treeline and departing to the north east. It left burn marks on the ground where it had sat.

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Almanac – January 04

1341 – Wat Tyler born. A leader of the English Peasants’ Revolt of 1381.

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1900 – James Bond born.  American ornithologist, an expert on the birds of the Caribbean. His name was appropriated by writer Ian Fleming for his fictional spy, James Bond.

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1958 – Sputnik 1 fell  to Earth from orbit. The first artificial Earth satellite, it was a 585 mm (23 in) diameter shiny metal sphere, with four external radio antennae to broadcast radio pulses. The Soviet Union launched it into an elliptical low Earth orbit on 4 October 1957. It burned up as it fell from orbit upon reentering Earth’s atmosphere, after travelling about 60 million km (37 million miles) and spending 3 months in orbit.

Its said that the launch of Sputnik 1 inspired U.S. writer Herb Caen to coin the term “beatnik”  (in an article about the Beat Generation in the San Francisco Chronicle on 2 April 1958.)

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1959 – Luna 1 became the first spacecraft to reach the vicinity of the Moon. It became the first ever man-made object to reach the escape velocity of the Earth.  At a distance of 119,500 km from Earth, a large (1 kg) cloud of sodium gas was released by the spacecraft, thus making this probe also the first artificial comet. This glowing orange trail of gas, was visible over the Indian Ocean with the brightness of a sixth-magnitude star for a few minutes.  Luna 1 passed within 5995 km of the Moon’s surface on 4 January after 34 hours of flight. A malfunction in the ground-based control system caused an error in the rocket’s burntime, and the spacecraft missed the target and flew by the Moon, then became the first man-made object to reach heliocentric orbit and was then dubbed a “new planet” and renamed Mechta (“Dream”).

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1960 – Albert Camus died. French Pied-Noir author, journalist, and philosopher. His views contributed to the rise of the philosophy known as absurdism. He wrote in his essay “The Rebel” that his whole life was devoted to opposing the philosophy of nihilism while still delving deeply into individual freedom.

Although often cited as a proponent of existentialism, the philosophy with which Camus was associated during his own lifetime, he rejected this particular label In an interview in 1945, Camus rejected any ideological associations: “No, I am not an existentialist. Sartre and I are always surprised to see our names linked…”

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1969 – Daisy and Violet Hilton died. A pair of conjoined twins or Siamese Twins who toured in the U.S. sideshow circuit in the 1930s.  They left the sideshows and went into vaudeville as “The Hilton Sisters’ Revue”. Daisy dyed her hair blonde and they began to wear different outfits so they could be told apart. They had numerous affairs, failed attempts to get a marriage license and a couple of short marriages. In 1932, the twins appeared as themselves in the film Freaks. In 1951 they starred in Chained for Life, an exploitation film loosely based on their lives.

The Hiltons’ last public appearance was in 1961 at a drive-in cinema in Charlotte, North Carolina. Their tour manager abandoned them there, and with no means of transportation or income, they were forced to take a job in a nearby grocery store.

They died victims of the Hong Kong flu. According to a forensic investigation, Daisy died first; Violet died between two and four days later.

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1986 – Phil Lynott died.  Irish singer and musician who is best known for being the founding member, principal songwriter, lead vocalist and bassist of the Irish rock band Thin Lizzy.

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Almanac – December 10

1951 – Algernon Blackwood died. English short story writer and novelist, one of the most prolific writers of ghost stories in the history of the genre – it’s been said that his short story collection Incredible Adventures (1914) “may be the premier weird collection of this or any other century”.

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1967 – Otis Redding died. American singer and songwriter, record producer  and arranger. Considered one of the major figures in soul music and rhythm and blues, and one of the greatest singers in the history of popular music, his singing style influenced other soul artists of the 1960s, and he helped to craft the powerful style of R&B that formed the basis of the Stax Sound.

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1978 – Edward D. Wood, Jr. died. American screenwriter, director, producer, actor, author, and film editor. In the 1950s, Wood made a number of low-budget genre films. In the 1960s and 1970s, he made sexploitation movies and wrote over 80 pulp crime, horror, and sex novels. In 1980 he was posthumously awarded a Golden Turkey Award as Worst Director of All Time. Be that as it may, I find films like Plan 9 From Outer Space, Glen Or Glenda and Bride Of The Monster far more enjoyable than many a blockbuster by “proper” film-makers (the James Bond franchise, for starters – yawn).

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1993 – The last shift leaves Wearmouth Colliery in Sunderland. The closure of the 156-year-old pit marked the end of the old County Durham coalfield, which had been in operation since the Middle Ages.

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2005 – Richard Pryor died. American stand-up comedian, actor, social critic, writer, and MC.

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Almanac – November 27

1703 – The first Eddystone Lighthouse was destroyed in the Great Storm of 1703.

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1940 – Bruce Lee born. Actor, martial arts instructor,  philosopher, and filmmaker.  Lee was the son of Cantonese opera star Lee Hoi-Chuen. He is widely considered by commentators, critics, media and other martial artists to be one of the most influential martial artists of all time,  and a pop culture icon of the 20th century.He is often credited with helping to change the way Asians were presented in American films.

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1942 – Jimi Hendrix born. American musician, singer and songwriter. Despite a limited mainstream exposure of four years, he is widely considered to have been the greatest electric guitarist in the history of popular music, and one of the most important musicians of the 20th century.

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1953 – Eugene O’Neill died. American playwright and Nobel laureate in Literature. His  plays were among the first to introduce into American drama techniques of realism earlier associated with Russian playwright Anton Chekhov, Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, and Swedish playwright August Strindberg and among the first to include speeches in American vernacular and involve characters on the fringes of society, where they struggle to maintain their hopes and aspirations, but ultimately slide into disillusionment and despair.

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1981 – Lotte Lenya died. Austrian singer, diseuse, and actress. In the German-speaking and classical music world she is best remembered for her performances of the songs of her husband, Kurt Weill. In English-language film she is remembered for her Academy Award-nominated role in The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (1961) and as the sadistic and vengeful Rosa Klebb in the James Bond movie From Russia with Love (1963).

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1998 – Barbara Acklin died. American soul singer and songwriter who was most successful in the 1960s and 1970s. Her biggest hit as a singer was “Love Makes a Woman” in 1968. As a songwriter, she is best known for co-writing “Have You Seen Her” with Eugene Record, lead singer of the Chi-Lites.

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Almanac – October 18

1871 – Charles Babbage died. Considered a “father of the computer”, Babbage is credited with inventing the first mechanical computer that eventually led to more complex designs. And ultimately to you reading this.

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1898 – Lotte Lenya born.  Austrian singer, diseuse, and actress.  In the German-speaking and classical music world she is best remembered for her performances of the songs of her husband, Kurt Weill. In English-language film she is remembered for her Academy Award-nominated role in The Roman Spring Of Mrs. Stone (1961) and as the sadistic and vengeful Rosa Klebb in the James Bond movie From Russia With Love.

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1926 – Chuck Berry born. American guitarist, singer and songwriter, and one of the pioneers of rock and roll music. With songs such as “Maybellene” (1955), “Roll Over Beethoven” (1956), “Rock and Roll Music” (1957) and “Johnny B. Goode” (1958), Chuck Berry refined and developed rhythm and blues into the major elements that made rock and roll distinctive, with lyrics focusing on teen life and consumerism and utilizing guitar solos and showmanship that would be a major influence on subsequent rock music

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1939 – Lee Harvey Oswald born.  According to four government investigations, he was  the sniper who assassinated John F. Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States, in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963.  Initially arrested for the murder of police officer J. D. Tippit, on a Dallas street approximately 40 minutes after Kennedy was shot. Suspected in the assassination of Kennedy as well, Oswald denied involvement in either of the killings.

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