1939 — Harvey Keitel born

One of those rare actors to not use a screen name, Harvey Keitel was a US Marine and later a court reporter before he became an actor. He first began to get attention for his roles in some of Martin Scorcese’s early films, such as Mean Streets and Taxi Driver. His career took a downturn after he was replaced by Martin Sheen on the set of Apocalypse Now after only a week of filming, although Keitel remained a prolific supporting actor for years.

It was not until 1992, when he played the role of Mr White in Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, that his career really took off again. Throughout the Nineties, Keitel was one of the most well-known and respected actors in Hollywood, having starred or guests in some of the highest profile films of the decade.

Referenced in:

The Chanukah Song (Part II) — Adam Sandler

1939 — Barcelona falls to the Nationalist advance

One of the last victories of the Spanish Civil War, the Nationalist victory in Barcelona saw the end of the hopes of the Republican forces. Barcelona was the Republican capital, and also the capital of Catalonia – which had been under direct attack by the Nationalists since December 23, 1938.

The Catalonian region surrendered on February 10, and the Republicans as a whole on April 1, beginning a period of unbroken rule over Spain by Franco that would last until his death in 1975.

Referenced in:
A Hero Of The Wrong War — traditional folk song

1939 — The Uranium Committee meets for the first time

The first meeting of what would evolve into the Manhattan Project – at that time called the Briggs Advisory Committee on Uranium – was held in Washington DC on October 21, 1939, a little less than two months after the outbreak of World War Two (and more than two years prior to the USA actually entering the war).

The first meeting was basically a planning session. It identified four key problems that needed solving – finding a reliable source of uranium, developing better methods for extracting uranium-235, making atomic (fission) bombs and finally, exploring the use of nuclear fission as a power source. In addition, $6000 was allotted to Fermi and Szilard to continue their experiments (which promised to shed light on at least one of the four problems).

On December 18, 1941, the S1 Uranium Committee was reorganised under the leadership of Vannevar Bush and tasked with developing an atomic bomb, a mission that would reach completion on August 6, 1945, in the skies above Hiroshima.

Referenced in:
To The Teeth — Ani Di Franco

1939 — Betty Grable stars in “Million Dollar Legs”

“Million Dollar Legs” was not a subtle film. Its poster showed only Grable (and her expensive lower appendages), and its 65 minute running time featured few scenes in which she wore anything other than hot pants. Grable appeared in the film with her husband, Jackie Coogan, but the experience was not a good one, and the two divorced later that year after the film flopped upon its July 14 release.

Grable actually announced her retirement from show business at that point, but was wooed back at a bigger studio and wound up becoming a greater star than ever before. Coogan went on to play Uncle Fester in “The Addams Family”.

Referenced in:
The Thanksgiving Song — Adam Sandler

1939 — Harvey Williams Cushing dies

The founder of neurosurgery as a separate discipline within medicine, Cushing was the youngest of ten children, and the son of a doctor. He studied medicine at both Yale and Harvard, interning at Massachusetts General and later Johns Hopkins. He was a firm believer in the application of hard science to medical problems, drawing especially on physics to better diagnose and treat patients.

Among other things, he pioneered the use of x-rays to detect tumours and used electro-cortical stimulation to investigate and better understand the workings of the brain. In the first few decades of the 20th century, he was the world’s leading teacher of neurosurgeons. But his most lasting effect on medicine may be the introduction of the earliest sphygmomanometer to America, which would rapidly become a great diagnostic tool. Ironically, while the proximate cause of Cushing’s own death at the age of 70 was a myocardial infarction, his autopsy revealed that he had a colloid cyst of the third ventricle in his brain.

Referenced in:

Black Man — Stevie Wonder

1939 – Poland surrenders to Germany

The combined German and Russian invasions of Poland in September 1939 were disastrous for the Polish people. The Germans invaded on September 2, and the Poles fell back before the onslaught at first. (The Germans did not actually practice blitzkrieg in Poland, but the invasion was still a swift one.) The Poles ceded some territory, and fell back to defensive positions further east…

…and then, on the 17th of September, and without any formal declaration of war, the Soviets invaded from the east. Caught between two armies, either of which by itself was numerically superior to the Polish army, there was little chance of victory. Although Britain, France and their respective allies had entered the war on the Polish side, they could not deploy in time to give any assistance to their beleagured ally. The Poles fought hard, and inflicted great casualties on the Germans and Russians, but the result was never truly in doubt.

Although some units fought on, the war in Poland largely came to an end with the fall of Warsaw on September 27, 1939, and the Polish government in exile was officially formed on the following day.

Referenced in:

To Be Or Not To Be (The Hitler Rap) – Mel Brooks

1939 – Germany invades Poland

It was the opening gambit of World War Two in Europe. After trying to press its geographical claims (especially to the Danzing corridor) through political means, Hitler decided to go ahead with an invasion of Poland.

Two weeks later, in accordance with the provision of a secret agreement between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, Stalin’s forces invaded Poland from the east, and within a month, the nation was conquered entirely, and partitioned between the two invaders.

But the war wasn’t over. Poland had allies – France, Britain and Britain’s Empire all declared war on Germany on September 3. World War Two had begun in Europe.

Referenced in:

To Be Or Not To Be (The Hitler Rap) – Mel Brooks

1939 – The New York World’s Fair opens

Dedicated to the promise of tomorrow, the New York City World’s Fair opened on Sunday, April 30, 1939. A crowd of more than two hundred thousand people braved the queues and the heat to investigate the attractions of the Fair. Many of the attractions were still not completed, but no one much cared. President Franklin D. Roosevelt made the opening address, which many of the crowd watched on the two hundred television sets – television being a new invention at the time.

Best known for the iconic Trylon and Perisphere built especially for it, the World’s Fair ran from April to October in 1939 and 1940, closing its doors for good on October 27, 1940. It was the largest World’s Fair ever – even the 1964 World’s Fair, which was held on the same site, was not as large.

Referenced in:

Lydia the Tattooed Lady – Groucho Marx

1939 – Amelia Earhart officially declared missing

Amelia Mary Earhart was the first woman to receive the Distinguished Flying Cross, which she was awarded as the first aviatrix to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. She also set numerous other aviation records and wrote best-selling books about her flying experiences. She was was a pioneer for womenin aviation, and by extension, in other professions as well.

At the height of her fame, Earhart disappeared over the central Pacific Ocean in the vicinity of Howland Island. This disappearance occured during an attempt to make a circumnavigational flight of the globe in 1937, and has led to any number of theories as its cause. Earhart continues to inspire fascination and admiration, both for her life and career, and for her disappearance.

Referenced in:
Amelia Earhart – Freakwater
Someday We’ll Know – New Radicals
In Search of Amelia Earhart – Plainsong
True Story Of Amelia Earhart – Plainsong
Amelia Earhart’s Last Ride – Anne Feeney
Amelia Earhart’s Last Flight – Red River Dave