1961 – Patrice Lumumba dies

A Congolese freedom fighter, Patrice Lumumba was one of the leaders of the independence movement that overthrew Belgian colonial rule in 1960, a struggle in which he faced physical and legal dangers constantly, and was arrested repeatedly by colonial authorities. The struggle was eventually successful, however, and shortly after victory was achieved, Lumumba became the first legally elected leader of a free and independent Congo republic.

His time as head of state was cut short by a Belgian-sponsored counter-coup, which saw Lumumba and other members of his government imprisoned and later executed a mere twelve weeks into their rule.

Referenced in:
Done Too Soon — Neil Diamond

1961 — Kennedy pledges to put a man on the Moon by the decade’s end

It was a bold announcement at the time – at any time, really. When JFK addressed a joint session of Congress, and announced that the USA would put a man on the moon by the end of the decade, he can’t have been sure it could be done. Sure, it was still only 1961 – technological utopianism was the order of the day – but the United States was lagging behind the Soviet Union at that point.

As we now all know, it turns out that it could be done – although with only six months to spare – and Armstrong and Aldrin’s walk on the moon in July 1969 is the most inspiring legacy that John F. Kennedy left behind him.

Referenced in:

Tomorrow, Wendy — Andy Prieboy
Tomorrow, Wendy — Concrete Blonde

1961 – The Bay of Pigs Invasion fails

In the early hours of April 17, 1961, a combined force of Cuban expatriates and American military advisors landed at Playa Girón, a beach in the Bay of Pigs. They were outgunned almost at once, and approximately 80% of the invading force was captured by the Cuban military.

In many ways, it seems to modern eyes that the Bay of Pigs was a dry run for the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. In both cases, the invading force was under-resourced, acting on faulty intelligence guided more by ideology than information, and relying on a sympathetic uprising that never eventuated.

The Bay of Pigs fiasco marked the last overt attempt by the USA to deal with the clear and present danger that Castro’s Cuba apparently posed to the American way of life. Fifty years of more or less peaceful coexistence later, it’s hard to see what all the fuss was about.

Referenced in:

We Didn’t Start The Fire — Billy Joel

1961 — Soviet submarine S-80 is lost with all hands in the Arctic Sea

Originally launched on October 21, 1950 at Krasnoye Sormovo Factory in Gorky, the S-80 was a Whiskey Class submarine, and was later overhauled between 1957 and 1959. On January 27, 1961, the S-80 was sailing through the Barents Sea (a portion of the Arctic Ocean between the Svalbard Islands and the Arkhangelsk Oblast, directly north of Murmansk). At about 1:27am, the S-80 dropped below snorkel depth, but a mechanical fault caused portions of the submarine to flood.

Alarm spread, but not as quickly as the water and the cascading mechanical faults. In the end, a total of 68 men – the complete complement of officers and crew – lost their lives in the sinking. The S-80 and the men aboard it were not found for seven and a half years.

Referenced in:
Reckless (Don’t Be So) — Australian Crawl

1961 – “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” premieres

Breakfast at Tiffany’s is perhaps the single best known film of Audrey Hepburn’s career. Less well-remembered for it is the other lead, George Peppard. It is based – somewhat loosely – on a short story of the same name written by Truman Capote. Hepburn and Peppard play Holly Golightly and Paul Varjak. He’s a struggling writer. She’s, umm, well, something unspecified. But although the film (largely due to the Hays Code) dodges around the issue, Capote’s story is less circumspect: she’s a call girl (albeit, a very high class one) and he’s a kept man. The don’t fight crime (what with being too busy committing it on a daily basis), but they do, somehow, find love with each other.

Hepburn was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance, but lost out to Sophia Loren. In fact, the film’s two Oscars actually came from it’s music – one for Henry Mancini’s score, one for the song “Moon River”, co-written by Mancini with Johnny Mercer and performed by Hepburn in the film.

The film is also controversial for its stereotypical depiction of the Asian character, Mr. Yunioshi, who was played by Mickey Rooney, and is little more than a buffoon.

Referenced in:

Breakfast at Tiffany’s – Deep Blue Something

1961 – “Stranger in a Strange Land” is published

One of the most famous science fiction novels of all time, Robert Anson Heinlein’s “Stranger in a Strange Land” remains a cult favourite even today. In the 1960’s, it took a while to find a mainstream audience. Despite winning a Hugo (for Best Novel) in 1962, it was not until 1967 that the book became one of the texts most associated with the burgeoning hippie movement. The plot of the book basically concerns a messiah figure who comes to Earth from Mars and founds what he calls ‘the Church of All Worlds.’ It’s an open question whether the book’s emphasis on free love made it attractive to hippies, or whether the book introduced that idea.

Approximately 60,000 words were cut from the book when it was first published, presumably because they were considered too shocking at the time, and it was not until thirty years later (and three years after Heinlein’s death) in 1991 that the full version, some 220,000 words in length, was published. Neither version has ever been out of print.

Referenced in:

We Didn’t Start The Fire – Billy Joel

1961 — John F. Kennedy is inaugurated as President

John F. Kennedy’s Inauguration oath was administered by Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Earl Warren with all the due pomp and ceremony.

Kennedy’s speech that day was unusually short for an Inaugural Address, but it is generally considered to be one of the better inaugural addresses. Such well known Kennedy quotations as “ask not what your country can do for you…” and “the torch has been passed to a new generation…” are taken from it.

Also, notably, Kennedy was the first President in some decades not to wear a hat at his Inauguration, pretty much single-handedly killing hats for men. Strange but true.

Referenced in:
We Didn’t Start The Fire — Billy Joel
She Is Always Seventeen – Harry Chapin